Tragic Art of Overworking

Facebook feeds, Instagram and Snapchat are abuzz during midterms and finals, with friends expounding the amount of work they have to do and how busy they are with extracurriculars. They have to juggle three essays due in eight hours on top of studying for two midterms the next morning, with their work schedules, projects and other life commitments tossed in as well like some kind of overloaded life salad. We have a go, go, go, do, do, do kind of culture. Not getting enough rest is glorified. People brag about being able to pull off all-nighters. Skipping meals means that you’re too busy to eat, so people do it often. Not a whole lot matters to us when we have an assignment to turn in, a meeting to get to or a paycheck to earn. We just always seem to have too much going on. We’re all too busy being busy to take care of our own basic needs as humans.

I’m more than guilty of this, too. Currently, I work two jobs, am taking 3 summer courses, and am working on my thesis. On the weekends I’m not working, you can find me buried under mounds of assignments I need to complete, presenting research proposals or writing. Sure, I’m proud of my accomplishments, and I would have never dreamed of the opportunities that I have today, but I’m not proud of my poor sleeping habits, the lack of substance in my diet, my crippling caffeine habits, the stress bubble that has wormed its way into the muscle above my left shoulder, the number of plans that I’ve had to cancel because of homework and the countless other things I’ve missed out on because I’m too busy. Nothing about this is unusual. As students, we are ambitious, driven to succeed and motivated to be our best, but sometimes what we define as our “best” chips away at our true potential.

Overwork culture is an interesting phenomenon to which we are all vulnerable, for we may feel as though we have to do more to gain respect and value. We want to prove our worth in society, to do well in a class, get that first internship, land that full-time position after graduation, or to impress admissions officers in professional and graduate schools. Ironically, many “self care” techniques, such as meditation, vacation suggestions, readings and even parenting are twisted nowadays into tools to make us even better workers. However, that is so toxic and harmful. Taking some time for yourself by unplugging from work benefits physical and mental well-being when done for the purpose of restoration.

Lately, however, I’ve realized that this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This realization came to me when I came back from class, and one of my roommates, rather than asking “How was class?” or “How was work?” asked me “What has been your favourite meal this summer?”

This question threw me off guard. Who asks about one specific meal over a span of 3–4 months? The question forces you to think back to a moment of true enjoyment, where your mind was completely present and content with its surroundings. Not a moment where you are thinking about the next meeting you must attend or email you have to reply to, but rather a moment where you enjoyed a meal with enjoyable company and enjoyed yourself. Instead of praising the “busy” lifestyle, this question praises the mindfulness of enjoying certain days or moments you encounter.

As a society, we think being busy is admirable — almost a goal to achieve. In essence, we admire those that have a lot do, and are constantly occupied or working. We think success is defined by how often you are checking items off a to-do list or feeling like you have so much to do you can’t enjoy yourself. If left unchecked, these habits developed from societal romanticization of working too much can wreak havoc on both our physical and mental health.

I can’t remember the last time I sat outside and enjoyed the sunset. University is about the formulation of the individual, not just about being groomed for and getting into graduate programs, and with all this pressure, and the lack of time, that can sometimes be hard to do. As I continue to survive the summer and start my final year of undergrad — my goal is to enjoy each and every day. I am determined to focus my mind on the present moment. I am curious to see how this mindset will change my reality for the better, and how my mood can positively influence others.

Love yourself folks! I love you!

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