American Culture and Work

Those who flee the persecution and oppression of their home country are drawn to this brave new world with its promise of freedom. The country offers an equality of opportunity in consonance with personal ability, but most will never become the next business tycoon or super-model. Anyone willing to work hard can find a new life in this country that would never have been available to them elsewhere. Still, there is a price to pay for this economic freedom. The price may be the sacrifice of things such as time with family or time for play. They may be able to achieve the quintessential American dream that is depicted in the movies, but they may all be watching a different film.
Immigrants do not hold this thought alone. The work culture of America began with the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers who laid claims to the land and blazed new trails. Once the land became free of the old and dowdy mother country, work began to be seen as a means to material gain and improvement of the self. In the article "Work Is Life" by Oliver Libaw, sociologist Benjamin Hunnicutt at the University of Iowa, argues, "Today, Work defines our identity. It gives us direction and purpose. Work today not only shapes our self-conception, it also provides us with an increasingly important social group" (Libaw, 2005: 331). Work is a means of self-fulfillment indicating that it is not just the pay that matters but also the self-actualization of those who perform it. Those who perform it well can enjoy many of its benefits, while those who can’t will be saddled to a life in a country where income is the only measure of success.
This concept of income as the only measure of success has set the Hollywood version of America as the unrealistic goal of work. The spirit of competition and achievement both at work and play is so high that people seem to compete not just with their colleagues and opponents but often even with themselves. Many individuals in America tend to find satisfaction in bettering their own previous record. Harvard Business professor Rosa Beth Moss Kanter is referring to this tendency when she says, "people work hard because they get satisfaction from doing their jobs well, and from being part of a group achievement" (cited in Libaw, 2005: 331). Time, they are told, is money and being hard-working and productive increases both self-esteem and the esteem of the people they support. This lesson is taught outright as they watch their parents continuously compete with their neighbors and friends over who has the ‘best’ car, house, child, spending limit, and most expensive therapist.
The other side of the coin is that those who are not able to achieve the goals can end up with bouts of depression and feelings of inadequacy. In the article "Why We Work", a principal at human resource consultant firm Towers Perrin by the name of David Rhodes states, "Many workers are left feeling insecure, unfulfilled, and under-appreciated. It’s no wonder surveys of today’s workers show a steady decline in job satisfaction. People are very emotional about work, and they are very negative about it" (Curry, 2005: 323). Work permeates every aspect of Americans’ lifestyles, with the spirit of competition bleeding into every aspect of their physical and leisure activities. The majority will be left