The Great Exhaustion
What If Beneath The Great Resignation is a Deeper Existential Truth We Are All Ignoring?
After nearly two years in and out of quarantine, my husband became the first of us to get Covid. Christmas plans thrown out the window. Fantastical dreams of finishing four books during the break turned into a few chapters here and there.
As we all approach nearly 700 days of “unprecedented” pandemic-related events, we have been left with a rupture so great between friends and families that it may take an act of Providence to fix. We have quit jobs. We have moved states. We collectively talk of this feeling in the air like something dreadful is always looming in the distance. We wonder if there really is a “normal” we can ever go back to.
We are all talking about “the Great Resignation,” and yet nobody is talking about the Great Exhaustion. Because wow, we are exhausted. We are all sick of *gestures broadly* this.
Friends who are teachers confide how they need mental health resources at schools due to the toll the pandemic has taken on kids. Friends in high-paying corporate jobs (with too many obligations to rage quit) text, “Let me know if you see anything that will help me get out of here and take a break.” Medical professionals, random naturopaths, psychics, pastors and therapists have somehow become Internet celebrities because we are all constantly looking for an answer to… well… everything. We just need it to get better.
My husband, now recovered from Omicron, sighed the other night, “I haven’t been very productive this Christmas break and I have a sense of shame about it.”
Read that sentence again.
My husband, who ten days ago, was rocking a fever and chugging down some Theraflu-like substance in between night sweats due to Covid 19 is concerned about his lack of productivity. But here’s the thing… I get it. I feel it.
I replied, “Yeah, I’ve been feeling the same way… but also… why do Americans have to be so productive all the time?”
“Man, that’s a good point.”
“Like, if we lived in Norway or something… would we be feeling this way or would we be taking walks by the fjord and doing pottery or something?”
I can’t say this is unique to America. I’m sure other modern countries have some semblance of this addiction to productivity. Japan, for sure.
What I do know is that it has become exceptionally American to value your sense of self worth by how hard you work, how much you do, how successful you are and what you do. Social media has evolved into an endless stream of humble bragging. Job announcements are now 3 paragraphs long. Every entrepreneur posts with the unbridled fervor of Steve Jobs announcing the revelation of the iPhone. (I think about this a lot.)
When I was growing up (for reference, I’m a Gen Xer), we talked about one day having jobs where we could “make a difference.” I think most of us figured marine biologist was the ticket, something about kids and whales… but the message was, “Be of service, do something that can change the world.” Protecting the ocean felt like a good cause.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it feels like we went from prioritizing a life of service and creating positive change to prioritizing wealth and a life of getting more stuff. The thing with that route however, is that there is never ever enough. Why do Billionaires need to go to space? I assume the answer is: because they can. That’s why.
Is this our great aspiration as a society? One day we can all be so rich that if we wanted to we could… checks notes… go to space for eight minutes?
I don’t know.
What I do know is that I see your posts and I see your tweets. I see all the quotations shared about tired moms, millennials who need a break, the mental health crisis and its link to crime and how Gen Z is just so seriously done with it (and your think pieces on them).
So, here’s the deal…
We. Are. Tired. All of us. Whether you’re blue collar in Kansas or pulling 500K a year in San Francisco with a mortgage you can barely afford, I bet you are tired.
Quitting jobs en masse is a symptom of the problem, but it is not the root cause. Yes, many employers treat their employees poorly. I would argue, that’s not new. Like many movements that have sprung up the past few years, people are simply saying the quiet part out loud now.
What we are not talking enough about is that we as a culture no longer value taking time for ourselves or resting. I find it amusing when friends take “activity vacations” where they brag about endless days of things planned to do. Is that really a vacation? Because it looks… exhausting.
In closing… people are quitting their jobs. Yes, many jobs are bad. More importantly however, we are all really tired.
So, if any of this resonates with you… I leave you with a parting thought:
If you find yourself running on empty, I’m here to tell you that the antidote to your sense of shame or the low self esteem brought on by a lack of productivity is probably not working harder. It might not even be a new job.*
The antidote might actually be more friends, more family, more rest, more love, more exercise that you actually enjoy, more writing music, more baking, more dancing, more time for healthy food, more 30 for 30, more stupid projects around the house you keep meaning to do, more art projects, more family and more quiet. If that sounds incredibly basic to you, then it’s probably the right path. Sit with it.
Sometimes the answers to our ailments aren’t all that extraordinary. They just require us to get quiet enough to hear them. Godspeed as we cautiously tiptoe into 2022.
*BTW if you work for Amazon, then it actually is a new job and taking a few months off in between... trust me.