As I awaken to a symphony of taxi horns and morning escapades through sky-puncturing glass mazes, I am reminded of what a stark contrast this fresh New York life is compared to my days in London.
The most obvious contrast to my Manhattan lifestyle is my work schedule. In London, it was flexible enough to enable me to travel almost every three days through the city that cast me back in time and delighted me at every corner. It appeared as though each block housed some time-sealed secrets of events that altered life as its inhabitants knew it. And each faade was trying to outlive the next to ensure their tales would not be forgotten. A quick glance down the avenue exposes Georgian manors pressed against modern glass palaces that squeeze their old neighbors so closely the bricks bleed red.
Rarely did I go 20 minutes without finding a historic landmark, tourist site, or street market on my museum-hoping exhibitions. I feel such an incredible sense of history in England, especially as an American. It is difficult to walk these cobbled streets, worn soft from aspiring individuals and enlightened locals, and not experience a sense of nostalgia. It is as if history physically exists here.
But the culture moves as quickly as its age would suggest: far slower and with less pressure than in the comparatively juvenile U.S. One’s job in America seems to become an identity. From the American perspective, I can see why; our job is what we spend 60 hours of our week doing (including the time we spend discussing and thinking about work after we leave the office). Not to mention, if we’ve spent nearly 20 years studying to get that job, why shouldn’t it represent us?
In England, it seems as though a job is just one’s most time-consuming hobby. That is why they don’t mind interruptions for the latest “football” match or a series of inquiries. At the American branch where I previously worked, I often had to make an appointment with my teammates to get 20 minutes worth of questions asked. This work “hobby” is easily set down at 5:31 to queue up at the local pub or go out on the town. Simply put, the Brits have other passions they pay attention to.
With all these leisurely conversations, personal jokes, and laughter, I was certain this office must have been falling behind the US branches. It hardly took me two days to realize that was not the case. Could all this fun actually be helpful?
Do we Americans make our jobs more exhausting than they need to be? Surely, competition in the workplace follows a bell-curve; too little and it makes no difference, too much and it becomes self-defeating. So where do we Americans fall on the spectrum? And do I want to live the rest of my life, or even my future academic career, in such a place?