Illustration by Andrea Nebhut
I’ve recently become increasingly aware of how obsessed we are with productivity. We often brag about how busy we are and how little sleep we get. In fact, 40 percent of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep. While this obsession with productivity isn’t necessarily indicative of a healthy lifestyle, it has still become the norm.
As students, we’ve been taught that if we’re not studying, earning money or somehow attempting to further our careers at any given moment, we’re basically wasting our time. I’m no stranger to spreading myself too thin in hopes of being more “productive,” but it only ever results in more stress.
While this “hustle culture” is extremely common, and most of us have experienced this kind of pressure since high school in one way or another — e.g., wanting to do every extra curricular under the sun in order to appeal to colleges — I have noticed and experienced firsthand how toxic it can be.
During the school year, we boast about how busy we are, praise those who are president of ten clubs at a time and our Snapchats are flooded with 4:00 a.m. time stamps on pictures of homework. There is significant research on how bad losing sleep is for us, yet we still applaud those who survive on coffee and energy drinks.
As much as I think we are impressed by, and strangely envious of, our peers who go from class to rehearsal to practice to work, I also think it’s important to learn to go at our own pace.
We shouldn’t feel debilitated or “less than” just because our calendars aren’t color-coded or filled to the brim with job offers, meetings and deadlines.
Not to mention that while we bite off more than we can chew in order to have glowing LinkedIn profiles or to be known amongst our peers as the person who “does it all,” we often don’t consider those who have no choice but to stay “productive” all year in order to live.
The whole “American Dream” is predicated on the notion that if you work hard, you’ll be somewhat financially successful, and while that may be true for people who are “productive” by choice, it’s not always the case for everyone.
Often times, overcommitment is more celebrated than it is questioned, especially at a school like Trinity.
It’s important to consider, however, that this praise is mostly directed at students who are overcommitted by choice because of all the opportunities they are given rather than people whose “overcommitment” involves working 16-hour days with three jobs because they can’t afford to live otherwise.
None of this is to say, however, that working hard and staying busy as students are bad things.
It’s when that pressure makes us feel like failures at the first sign of a misstep that well-being is compromised.
There’s another extremely important factor to consider in a culture that encourages toxic productivity, and it’s the insinuation that being obsessed with one’s goals is the most important, if not the sole component in leading a successful life, which is simply not the case.
To put too much weight on the saying “hard work pays off” is to place less importance on all the economic and social factors that go into such “hard work” actually paying off.
What I mean by this is that there are millions of people in the U.S who work much harder than many of those who we consider “successful” but will most likely never quite reach the American ideal of “success” because of elements out of their control.
I only hope that we can consider some of these factors when attributing people’s success to just “hard work” and “productivity.