My Problem With America

I have been doubting my worth a lot lately. It could be a prolem with my own self-esteem. Or, as I’ve began to think, a nasty bi-product of my surroundings. There is this ancient Japanese expression which goes: “an apprentice near a temple will recite the scriptures without tuition.” Which, as I’m sure you gathered, basically means, we are greatly affected by our environments.

America is so darn materialistic to me.

This attitude, this strong emphasis on “success”, achieved solely through 1. an esteemed tertiary education, 2. the “right” career, and 3. moneymoneymoney is so upsetting. It makes me miss Japan greatly. For even though the Japanese are perhaps the number one work-oriented society, when it comes to “success” there is room for everybody.

I once watched this great documentary called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” on one of the world’s greatest sushi chefs. This is what Jiro says in the movie:

“Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

As far as I’m aware, Jiro didn’t study at Harvard. Nor was he a lawyer or an accountant – not that there’s anything wrong with studying at Harvard, or being a lawyer or an accountant. Just that Jiro reached his success through different routes than the restricted three mentioned.

Because of this idea, ALL jobs in Japan, from government officials to persons whose only role is to shred unwanted paper are respected. All work is given great value and all work is praised. Where you studied in order to land your current position, what connotations your job title possesses in this day and age, and how much moolah you make, are not the only measurements of your success.

Which is why I’m suggesting we re-think these conservative pathways I keep encountering in the West. Instead of a renowned University name or a “prestigious” (according to whom?) job title and the amount of cash in ones bank, what about pondering how our careers and/or actions affect others, in what spirit do we conduct ourselves and for what purpose? What are our true intentions?

Which is better? A Harvard graduate with the sole motive of shallow wealth and hungry power? Or a “poor” painter, potter, cleaner, or waitress (the list goes on…) working in the spirit of service? In the spirit of love. In the spirit of creativity. In the spirit of justice.

‘Abdu’l-Baha, beautifully describes this concept when he says: “[A]ll effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity.”

So. I am successful because I love my work. Because it often positively affects others. And because I put my entire heart and soul in it. And that’s it. That’s all it should ever be. Because that’s all that has ever mattered.



  1. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Although I am from the USA, I have been affected by this a lot recently as I am searching for a new job. I am a recent college graduate trying to find my start in my career and as I apply for job after job I cannot help but think, what is this all for? I want to do something for the greater good, while also being able to start paying for my student loans.

    Thank you for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I have a cousin who doesn’t seem to know when enough is enough. Everything he touches has to turn a profit or it isn’t worth his time. Tilling a garden plot for an old person is not time well spent, in his eyes.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve had Jiro on my mind recently too, especially his message of striving for continuous improvement. It’s so interesting the way culture happens, what it is that shapes our collective thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As an American, I can tell you that I completely agree with you on this. I’m always aggravated when I meet someone and the first thing they say is “What do you do?” as if they are weighing whether for not there is anything to be gained by talking to you. I usually respond by saying “nothing.”

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This is a good post. Recently, I too have been doubting my worth as a human being and writer, mainly due to the online bashing I have been receiving after posting my crowdfunding appeal to a local (Singaporean) forum.

    I understand what you said about the obsession with academic pedigree and career choice. It’s the same here in Singapore. People like me, who work as security guards or cleaners, are often looked down upon.

    Based on what you said, Japan seems to be my kind of place. I bet I could live a mentally healthy life there, as a security guard.


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