Illustration by Andrea Nebhut
I first wrote about burnout in the Trinitonian’s first-year guide, the Declassified. Burnout, the result of an individual chronically pushing themselves past exhaustion, plagues university campuses and corporate offices nation-wide.
While it is true that an ever-increasing workload leads to this kind of chronic exhaustion, authors writing about the issue rarely discuss how this phenomenon most directly affects minority individuals.
I’ll begin by talking about the albatross around my neck known as Imposter Syndrome. Everyone has felt like an imposter at some point. That familiar feeling like you’re in too deep or out of your comfort zone intensifies for members of minority communities.
Whether it is entering a classroom and being the only person of color there or realizing that you’re the only one of your friends who can’t afford to go home (let alone make an expensive spring break trip), people of color, low income people and queer people have to deal with this feeling of “otherness” on a different level. The more ways an individual experiences structural marginalization, the more ways they feel the strain of this stress.
Imposter syndrome manifests in different ways for different people. My personal philosophy for the past three years is just one of its many manifestations: I came into college with the mentality that I would out-work everyone around me and excel so that no one could tell me that I did not belong here.
In addition to the family stress that comes with the process of combating inter-generational trauma and the academic stress that comes with being a college student and working two and, at times three, jobs to remain afloat, I resolved that I not only needed to be as successful as my more privileged classmates — I needed to be better than them.
I was working 70-hour weeks, taking 19 hours of coursework. I was forcing myself to the point of exhaustion and past it, getting sick every few weeks, until the point that my mental health started to suffer. My depression got worse; my anxiety overtook me.
All of this continued, with some semesters better about commitment levels than others, until I bottomed out last semester and fainted. In the DMV. The day before starting my full-time internship.
To those of us whose parents work three jobs to keep their families out of homelessness, burnout sounds like a privileged buzzword. When the established norm in your life is to work like your life depends on it, because your life literally does depend on it, you feel guilty when you are not pushing yourself to your limits. You feel guilty for taking baths, for going to parties, for writing poetry, for celebrating joy, for praying and, generally, for indulging in the things that give your life purpose. When you are the sole hope for breaking your family out of a cycle of poverty and violence, you do not get the luxury of being 21 years old.
The most freeing thing for me, and what is helping me recover from chronic over-commitment, is this: this place was not made for people like me. And to the people who feel like they are in an environment that is foreign and isolating: you do not need to prove yourself to anyone.
You do not need to work harder to validate your place here or show anyone anything. You are here to grow not only for yourself, but for your family and your community. And you, as an individual, are worthy of rest and joy.