American work culture: Illness and struggling to relax

This week’s Cultural Tidbits Monday post will be quite different. Instead of discussing world superstitions or travel through food, I’ll explore American work culture from my POV. I’ll tell you aboutΒ how it led to illness, plus how I’ve been forced to learn how to RELAX in order to continue. It hasn’t been easy, but I could lose my ability to use my hands and forced to give up my digital nomad dream career altogether if I don’t step back…

Have you noticed a sudden halt of new posts on this travel blog? I’ll tell you why:

American work culture, carpal tunnel

I have overworked myself to this point… (John Kannenberg, Flickr)

Seems like I have developed carpal tunnel and/or RSI.

The most difficult part of all this? I could barely hold my dinner fork and feed myself last week. I cried myself to sleep as I got tired of sobbing for hours. I have never experienced physical pain besides my depression (pre-travel and during my life after travel), so it’s been very tough for me. Tougher has been having to significantly decrease the amount of travel writing so I could have a little strength left to be able to work at my 40-hour-a-week management position. You know, the one that’s paying for all my debt…

The new American dream is a trap. And American work culture got me ill.

Hard work during your youth, while being able to relax after you retire are two strong values of American work culture. These values pushed me to get 2 bachelor degrees, hold 4 jobs while studying full-time, and get into debt in the name of education.

My many scholarships and grants were supposed to “cover most expenses,” dammit.

These values made me keep this full-time management job so I could pay off my debt faster and have a great credit score. Yet, because I still wanted to be working toward my dreams, I worked after work, even during all my lunch breaks, on my travel writing. Meaning? About 12-13 hrs of work daily. Why? Because I would do a big chunk of travel writing on weekends, too. These habits, which had no space for relaxation except for a few hours on Saturdays, led my body to crash and destroyed my hands…

And don’t forget I only get 10 days of paid leave a year.

That includes sick days and vacation days.

American work culture, stressed out

Stressed.Out (Deborah Leigh, Flickr)

“Oh, but don’t worry, you’ll be able to relax after you retire! You’re such a hard worker MarΓ­a, keep it up!” they say. Well, my body forced me to tell them “F— jou, I’m relaxing now, too!” You see, the pain in my hands became so unbearable that unless I took little breaks during the day + stopped working altogether after 5:30pm, my hands would just stop functioning. I mentioned I couldn’t feed myself the other day, right? *sigh*

And so, with great pain in my heart, I’ve had to greatly scale back on travel writing (both blogging and my paid gigs) just so I can keep the job that pays my bills. That is my good “American work culture” paying for “my American dream” and the education that they inevitably include. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I would have just thrown myself to the world, started travel writing and translating and gone to school after I had the money to do so (you know, after saving $30k from working on a cruise ship).

But I digress.

What’s done is done. I am a prisoner of American work culture and the new American dream until I can pull myself out of debt. Then, when I have enough funds and time, I’ll be able to just do translating and travel writing full-time. To make my dreams finally come true. To not overwork myself and my body to the point of illness. And for now?

I’m still having a hard time learning how to relax.

American work culture, seeking relaxation

I wish I could have this every day…but I can’t…

Because of my RSI, I am forced to relax. Yet, I can’t stop thinking about work. I’m still struggling. This weekend I did see some glimpses of relaxation and, let me tell you, they were glorious. Still though…I wish I could afford going to the beach more often so I could relax even further. But no, I’m tied up paying all these student loans. I think it is quite ironic that American work culture always equals success, yet most of us are struggling, despite hard work and a decent education. But now I am mostly ranting, so I’ll stop…

I will work harder to relax. I must relax for better health. I must still find a bit of time to work for my dreams. I must still press on so someday I can truly be free.

I will win the war against American work culture, while still being a hard worker.

I will learn how to relax. I will succeed my way!

Those are my current thoughts about American work culture.
What’s your take?

18 thoughts on “American work culture: Illness and struggling to relax

  1. Sadly the so-called “American Dream” is more an “American Hell”, but thankfully not many people are dreaming of making their life a nightmare anymore. Because this is certainly not life if you can’t enjoy anything of it.
    I do suffer from some rsi too though, even though I’m a full time freelance writer. To some extent being a freelancer is making me work more than in an office job! I’m always alone doing everything, but I do manage to devote some time only to relax (not much, I admit), and most importantly, I work for myself, not to make someone else rich giving up on my own physical and mental health!
    Don’t get “trapped” any deeper, try your best to relax and enjoy your free time. I’ve been enjoying meditation and aromatherapy recently, they do help πŸ™‚

    • Hey Angela. So you’re a wandering writer eh? I think the reason why I developed RSI is that not only do I work 40 hours a week as a manager, but I also do a lot of travel writing and blogging on the side (which puts me at a good 80+ hours of work per week!). I feel that if I lived in a country where costs were much lower, I could work part-time only, as a travel writer, and still be able to fully enjoy life. That is, assuming I’ve paid off all my debt–which I plan to do before I jet off! I’m sure that if I were to stay in the US for the rest of my life, like you said, I would probably still have to work many hours in order to sustain this “American Dream” lifestyle. I don’t think I want to anymore!

      By the way: Do you live in the US and/or plan to live abroad at some point? You should consider it, as your career is mobile and you could get a taste of living in different parts of the world. This way, you’ll be able to figure out which place offers you the best quality of life–the one that’s right for you. Have you tried that out yet or not?

      Back to your comment: As I pay off my debt though, I do have to try my best to relax. Free time in my current schedule is kind of a joke, LOL, but I must attempt to free up my schedule every once in a while. Meditation, massages, aromatherapy, and yoga/dancing/Zumba should help me out, in addition to my boyfriend! LOL πŸ˜‰ thanks for commenting

  2. I just took a new job myself, and it is extremely tough to balance work and travel blogging. Right now it is 4:30AM, and I am waking up early to finish a blog, after I read yours :), and then post it, and promote it, and then go to work. It will be a long day.

  3. I feel your pain. It’s the whole reason I left the U.S. behind and have been living abroad now for going on five years, and why I’ll never go back. It’s also why I practice immersion travel.

    I have all the same things I had back in the U.S. living abroad as an expat…it just costs me a fraction of the price. I cut my bills from $2500-$3000 a month down to $600-$700 a month (last month was 8,000 Mexican pesos total, or around $650), and consequently went from working 40+ hours a week and living in debt to being debt-free and only needing to work a few hours here and there.

    Don’t get sucked in any deeper! And keep at it…it might sound like it’s an impossibility, but it’s not.

    • I know T.W.! Which is why I’m working so hard to pay off my debt so I can lead a lifestyle very similar to yours. I have already been “sucked in” and have to be responsible and pay my dues. Eventually, I’ll be out living my dream. But as with any dream, preparation is key — which is what I’m doing (professionally) right now as well. I know it isn’t impossible – I’m working on it! πŸ˜‰

  4. I can relate to where your coming from. Working everyday as a professional, doesn’t leave nearly as much time to travel, write and take photos as I would like. Even less because there needs to be relaxation time and time with loves ones. Oh yeah there’s the bills too. Some work trips (with some travel exploration) and working remotely some have helped but that’s off-an-on. I’m working towards finding a different balance, a niche of some sort where I can achieve my true dreams and still take care of the day-to-day. I’m confident you’ll be free and achieve all of your dreams before you know it!

    • Thanks for the encouragement Aaron. It is def. tough to keep that balance, sp with a boyfriend (in my case)! But we are both currently saving, so that helps. I know it’ll be better soon though…hard work pays off sooner or later!

  5. The American nightmare does nothing for your soul, I’d much rather make a bit less money and have my free time to pursue what I actually want to than be some corporate drone. If it’s not for you, then plan accordingly and get the F out! Just remember, you could wake up tomorrow and be diagnosed with cancer (knock on wood), then what would you think?

  6. Wow, same here. I only got 10 days of sick and vacation days at my old job and remember asking my boss if I could take more than 5 at a time if I accrued them. The answer was no! Incredible.

    I didn’t get a break from work until I had shoulder surgery a few months ago. Talk about pain. The funny part is, it was borderline enjoyable because I got some time off. This doesn’t feel like a dream to me…

    • It’s absolutely sickening how little vacation time Americans get. How is that normal or even legal? My husband here in France gets 9 weeks of regular vacation (sick days are separate) and then something like 13 public holidays. NO, he’s not a teacher. It’s quite common to take the entire month of July or August off in France. American culture needs to shift in this regard…

      • I agree Diane. I’m not necessarily against the hard-work ethic–but way too many companies here take advantage of it and it is really said. I can feel my body exhausted, yet there’s nothing I can do (besides planning my escape!). For now, I have to keep working! Fortunately, this is only temporary for me *phew!* I cherish the life-work balance too much to stay in this American work culture for much longer. Can’t wait to be abroad again!

  7. Totally get this….I made the same “mistakes” – got myself into higher ed dept & am paying it off slowly – I feel like I bought into the whole idea of education hook line and sinker and wish I had just gone off and done my own thing.

    Hopefully the next generation has a little more information in their hands when they make the decision to take out student loans. The debt really stifles innovation and also risk taking…not having it could transform our culture.

    Anyway – wishing you strength to continue to pursue your dreams. I’ll be walking the path right beside you πŸ™‚

  8. I just came across your site and I love it!

    The infamous “American Dream” I gave it back, and all that came with it, I’m much happier now pursuing my own kind of life.

    Although my plans don’t have any concrete plans (at least for now) I am content to know my choices are my own.

    I am with you on the war on the American work culture!

    • I’m on that tough road right now. I’ll never stop being a hard worker, but what the “American Dream” and “American work culture” have morphed into are just not for me, either. Still seeking the happy medium, like you, and I’m positive that I’ll find it one day πŸ™‚ Thanks for the comment and I’m happy to hear you like my travel blog! Stick around for more stories πŸ˜‰

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