Why “work hard and play harder” Is Hard for the Chinese, even in the US

Why “work hard and play harder” Is Hard for the Chinese, even in the US
Photo Credit: Maryland GovPics @Flickr CC BY 2.0

The News Lens international edition is sponsored by Tutor A B C

By Anita X.

I work with a startup in New York. The company has a very small team, where everybody wears different hats, including the CEO.

The CEO is an American woman in her 40s. Since my first day of work, her energy has never failed to amaze me. I often get emails from her after midnight. The same morning, she will wake up for tele-meetings with people in other time zones. I’ve always assumed that she has no spare time for other activities, until I discovered that she watches a new film every week, goes to yoga classes, does archery and attends different cultural salons several times a week.

As I paused to think about how she manages her time so well, I began to realize that most Americans I know live a life as she does. They work hard, and play harder. But this lifestyle doesn’t seem to apply to most of my Chinese friends, even those who were educated in the U.S.

While the choice of lifestyle is personal, I believe it is deeply affected by the culture you live in and the people around you. When you live in a society where a healthy lifestyle is encouraged, where the definition of success is no longer just about materialism, you learn to slow down and spend more time with your inner-self.

And if that is the case, do Chinese-born people living in America foster an Americanized lifestyle that is more balanced? Not quite so. From my observation, unless that person really accepts American culture, and wants badly to be part of the American society, they won’t want to change their ways of life.

There are lots of people around me who, although live in America, never or seldom socialize with Americans. They also consume Chinese pop culture and only read Chinese mainstream media.

I reached out to my best friend Grace, who currently works with a Chicago-based consulting firm. She was born and raised in China, but came to America three years ago for her master’s degree. She is one of the most open-minded people I’ve ever met. In several of our conversations, she has indicated her effort and longing for a well-balanced life.

“I really think lifestyles vary from person to person, even if in the U.S., or maybe especially in the U.S.,” she said.

She mentioned that American culture has been shaping her mind and influencing her decisions.

Has Grace ever been overwhelmed by work and lost her life balance? The answer is absolutely “yes.” But she tries to communicate with her team and managers about how much flexibility she can offer at work so that her priorities are clear and shared with her co-workers.

Why don’t people do so in China? Why don’t they speak up about their concerns even when they want to be free from work?

Chinese mainstream measures success by how much money you earn, what kind of job you do and which college you go to. From an early age, kids are forced to study hard at schools. They are not required (nor encouraged) to learn the arts. If they do, it’s because being good at the piano or painting increases the chance of getting accepted into top schools.

Photo Credit: James Kim @Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo Credit: James Kim @Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Chinese children are not encouraged to spend time playing sports, either. Parents and teachers think it’s a waste of time, and the Chinese even have a saying,“those who are good at sports are by no means smart (頭腦簡單,四肢發達)," to discourage people from pursuing sports. And it’s not just parents and teachers that think so. So do peers. It’s always the smartest kids that enjoy popularity, not the captain of the football team or an amateur student pianist.

In America, you see the opposite. A smart student good at nothing else is considered a nerd. No one wants to be friends with him or her. A CEO with no personal life or hobby is considered boring. The American society values a person’s success not just on how much money you earn, but how you play out your personality and charisma, as well as how you give back to your community.

Just look at some of the American presidents. John Adams often skipped school, spending his time hunting and fishing instead; John Tyler was an awesome violinist; George H.W. Bush was the captain of both the varsity baseball and soccer teams when he was in high school; and Obama is openly a great fan of “Spiderman” and collects lots of comic books.

Americans admire these people not just because they are great leaders, but because they have a character and a life people are inspired by.

The Chinese don’t necessarily encourage such lifestyles. The cultural upbringing of studying hard has such a long-term effect on Chinese people that they would think of hardworking as the only thing they’re expected to do when they grow up, leaving fun of life way behind.

If society continues to value efficiency over anything else, and if early childhood education doesn’t change, I can hardly see the Chinese adopt the lifestyle “work hard, and play harder.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with “all work and no play.” That is just another personal choice I have no interest in judging. What I wanted to communicate through this article is that, I see the difference between the lifestyle in China and America, and I’m deeply intrigued by its influence.

Edited by Olivia Yang


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