Whatever happened to the Australian dream?

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A rather depressing report on Saturday from BBC News on the poor psychological and physical state of Australia’s workforce.

Two thirds of working people claim to be stressed out (some moderately, some majorly), and nearly half of them (41% to be exact) so distressed they’re considered to be ‘at risk’.

This was a ten-year study, far reaching in terms of scale and sectors covered. And, of course, it fits into a global pattern in the Western world. We work too much, don’t do enough exercise, preach work-life balance yet fail to live it – oh, and don’t eat enough greens either.

It’s a gloomy picture, all the more so set against the sunny climes and dispositions of Australia. Having spent a bit of time there, I’m amazed the picture is quite as bleak as it seems to be, but then, Australians tend to make the best of things. They’re the very model of shaking it off.

No worries.

What’s sadder is it wasn’t going to be like this.

The flock to the land of the young and the free after World War II (particularly from Britain) was a flight to a better way of life, one with more warmth, more light, more space.

I remember all through my schooling in the eighties there was always at least one kid a year whose family where making a break for it to the other side of the world.

We always envied them. This was the era of Charlene and Scott and Summer Bay and a beach always featuring somewhere (definitely a more inviting looking world then our equivalent cramped cobbled streets and dreary London squares).

So what happened?

All that hope and optimism, the resolve and courage it took for all those people to uproot themselves and take themselves so far away from everyone else they knew in search of a better way of life.

How didn’t it help the new Australians and their offspring resist the Western pandemic of work addiction? We thought they all finished by five and headed down to the beach with an Esky.

Of course, like the rest of us, how could they be immune to the constant on of our new technologies and our cultural glorification of business leaders with vast salaries and seemingly impossible schedules?

This is what 21st century success looks like (combined with domestic arrangements worthy of any interiors magazine and replete with perfect partners/pets/children).

It’s a lot to live up to. Especially when, in my experience, it’s really, really hot a lot of the time.

Maybe it’s time for Australians to reinvigorate that initial Australian dream of success – a slower, gentler, ‘no worries’ existence. A more balanced one. Perhaps they could remind the rest of us of how it can be done. How it should be done.

Perhaps this report will encourage their employers to reassess their role in alleviating the pressure people clearly feel themselves to be under. To relinquish their expectation of people’s enslavement to technology; to invest the time to get to the root of what’s frying the brains of their workers under that fierce Australian sun.

With slipping productivity, if nothing else to incentivise them, it would be a worthwhile investment but, more than that, don’t we all owe it to ourselves to find a better balance when our luck is so much greater than so many others in this world?

If we can’t find a better way, with so much on our side, so many opportunities to do things differently, and with more potential to do better things as a result, who can?

The starting point surely is a little imagination…


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