A week ago today, I was sitting in a lounge chair, soaking up the sun somewhere between Miami Beach and the Bahamas. As a celebration of school being out and summer arriving, my family embarked on a week-long cruise of the Caribbean.
The level of professionalism, and customer service employees on these cruise ships demonstrate, is something I am always amazed by. They are some of the most highly trained, and hardworking people I have ever seen. On one particular evening while relaxing on the main deck in a hot tub, I watched as a group of employees vied for a spot on the lifeguard team.
Much like you see in old war movies, there was a drill sergeant there both encouraging these candidates, while at the same time trying to convince them to give up as they were pushed to their physical limits in the pool. Perhaps even more interesting was the fact that many high-ranking officers on the ship all gathered to both observe these tryouts, and to congratulate those that passed the rigorous tests. The difficulty of what these employees were being asked to do along with the drive they all had to succeed stayed in my head.
Later that week I struck up a conversation with the Director of Beverages for the ship and I asked how they maintain such a high level of efficiency and competence amongst their staff, and his answer was simple, discipline and expectations.
I nodded and said that’s probably why you don’t employ a lot of Americans on your ships. He agreed. He said most Americans simply aren’t willing to put forth the effort required to meet their high expectations. To me, this was both an accurate, and sad commentary on our culture. Elon Musk has expressed a similar concern about the American work ethic, recently saying that while the Chinese “burn the 3 a.m. oil” too many Americans are trying to avoid work altogether.
On the surface it might appear working on a cruise ship is a non-stop party. The reality is this party atmosphere is a façade and employees are expected to work, not play. For those who don’t know, cruise ship employees sign up for contracts that last between 4-9 months. During that time, they get no days off, and generally work 8-12 hrs. a day. Yet despite these conditions, you will never see an employee on their cell phone, publicly complaining about their job to a co-worker, or slacking off in any way. The reason for this is simple. Employees on these ships understand how blessed they are to have the opportunity to provide a better life for themselves and their family on these ships. They know if they don’t perform, they’ll be replaced by someone else who will. There is no sense of entitlement whatsoever. We as Americans could learn a few things from these employees.
In many ways, I believe we have become too prosperous for our own good. I often jokingly compare the American people to a stray cat that when first adopted would eat scraps off the table and come whenever called, but over time has become much more finicky and independent after getting used to the high life.
I see this behavior in my own kids that have never faced real difficulties. While I try to not spoil them, and teach them discipline and the value of hard work, I know compared to most of the world their lives have been pretty easy. As has mine if I’m really honest.
If our economy does turn south in a major way, which it might, an entire generation or two that have never really experienced true hardship may be up for a rude awakening. Pessimistically, I’m not sure we will handle it as well as previous generations did. Perhaps in some ways it will be good for us.