The Zuidas: Where guilt and money meet

Bram Schaper | 20-02-2023

These days I find myself at the Zuidas for an appointment about twice a week. I don’t think this is coincidental. This week I see another typical scene – two ambitious thirty-somethings sit across from me. One studied psychology, the other commercial economics. Both are naturally drawn to the Zuidas, “because that’s where the towering skyscrapers are, that’s where it all happens”. What that ‘it’ is, I’m sure you can guess. The business of making money. And a lot of it, too. “If you are smart and put in the hours, the money flow is unstoppable. It provides the ultimate freedom. I can buy a motorcycle, go on vacation 3 times a year, order sushi delivery for dinner and I don’t feel the need to send Tikkies to friends.” How does it feel? In short – great.

At first.

Initially, the thrill of what you can do with all that money is new and exciting. But sooner or later a growing sense of uselessness or futility overcomes many of them: “When the South Axis is on ski vacation, society doesn’t notice. The VU medical center is a hundred meters away. Imagine if everyone there was on ski vacation.’ But it also strikes a chord inside: “you allow yourself to be distracted so as not to have to think about it.” If the cognitive dissonance gets a grip you have no choice but to rationalize it away.

At the regular work socials there are colleagues who seek each other out and dare to name their inner feelings. Everyone has their own story, but the feelings are the same: a moral vacuum. “I create powerpoint slide decks. I create nothing of value.” Remarkably, some colleagues immediately leave the conversation when this is brought up. “Presumably too fearful of the consequences. It seems like monetary freedom trumps guilt, for some. Moments like that can really change the mood.”

The question remains: what to do next?

Several Zuidas workers I speak to want to “get out of the system”, “compensate for damage”, “do something useful” and “make an impact on the world”. There are – fortunately – more and more opportunities to do so. Preaching to my own choir, the first step is a simple one: The place where you help solve the world’s most pressing problems in a tangible way. The question of how to use your time for good is more complicated. Fortunately, there is a rapidly growing community of morally ambitious people who inspire and motivate each other at the Ten Percent Club. In addition to learning how to donate effectively, there is room to talk about how you use your career to fulfill your moral ambition. This creates opportunities to live on the right side of history and really make a difference with your money and time.

I see enthusiasm on the faces of the psychologist and the economist. There is a chance to do things differently. What I especially like is that these questions are alive in a place that I didn’t expect, which is the first step. Guilt and money may meet to give way to value and meaning.

Orange cross