As I sit on the airplane returning from overseas, I ponder about life and what could make it more interesting and joyful. Everytime I return, it feels the same; I feel enlightened by the way of life abroad. Life just seems to make much more sense over there as it revolves around human contact, interactions, and wellbeing.
Once I land however, I’m faced with this other world, the so called “Land of Opportunity”. As I sit on CalTrain (Bay Area’s crappy public transit) I can over hear the same repeated conversations that Silicon Valley is famous for. The guy in front of me, an obese whose t-shirt humbly says “I’m right 97% of the time, who cares about the other 4%”, has just returned from a business trip in Hawaii. His once pale skin is hot red from the sun. He hands over a business card to the guy next to him, whom he had met many years ago in another conference and has accidentally run into on the train, and starts pitching his business to him. I didn’t quite follow what he did, but it was along the lines of “If you need balloons for your business, calls me and I’ll blow them up for you myself”. The conversation then moves onto calling everyone he had met on the trip “idiots” as he was the only one who knew what he was doing.
While in Italy last year, as I drove through the famous Chianti wine country, I met the owner of one of the largest vine yards in the area. He had a tiny little store, on a narrow stone paved street, simply enjoying the afternoon conversing with his friend. As we approached, he welcomed us in, and gave us a little taste of his wine and olive oils. Being used to receiving and inflicting the Silicon Valley type of social pressures, I quickly started asking him about his business and why he doesn’t expand and export his wine. He simply replied “non necessità”.
The land of opportunity is all about the opportunity. The social norm here is to turn everything into an opportunity to make money. The guy who has a little tomato farm and makes enough money to live comfortably with some money and lots of time left over, is pressured into making more tomatoes and speed up the process of growth. He now spends all of his time stressing over his farm and the output, with his tomatoes now tasteless.
It is quite evident abroad; a loaf of bread in the US has a list of 50 ingredients, 47 of which are preservatives and sweeteners. While any other oversea country I’ve been to has only 3, flour, water, and salt.
It might sound like an obvious thing to recognize and stop, but the social pressure is on and it’s hard to realize it while it’s happening. It takes two weeks to put me back into the “I must create a business” mood again.