You got up one fine morning like every other day, and as dystopian as it sounds, the world shut down. Who knew the song ‘If the world was ending’ by Julia Michaels would hit so close to home, right?
I get up each morning (on time, because you must) and what follows is an exhaustive to-do list, which I also call a carefully-crafted elaborate buzzkill. As I sit to work, I fill up my ‘Productivity App’ across devices to stay on track, to achieve an ungodly level of productivity so that I can pat my back as I go to bed at night for meeting the unrealistic expectations laid down by other people. (Spoiler alert – Never works, I am mostly just disappointed at the list of things I failed to achieve).
I, then, switch to LinkedIn and it seems like everyone is up and about with little wisdom nuggets wrapped in the promises of success. ‘How to wake up on time’, ‘What is the 5-second rule’, ‘How to ‘work smart not hard?
It’s just 10 am, and I am already exhausted, feeling like a pile of worthlessness holding myself together with inspirational quotes and duct tape. When did being productive 24/7 become indispensable to our lives, and Should I enroll myself in yet another ‘Learn Digital Marketing in 10 days’ course to validate my existence?
On the edge of the world
Haven’t we all lately been over the edge? We all know someone who recently had an anxiety attack or is sinking into depression. Why? What is it about this generation, that feels so ‘broken’? We are constantly navigating between the highest highs and the lowest lows- sometimes all within 12 hours. One minute we love the feeling of just being home enjoying chai, basking in the beauty of doing nothing. And the very next moment, we are fidgeting because it’s been 5 hours since we got out of the bed, and haven’t yet learned a new skill! What a blasphemy, right?
We are all up in our heads, anxious and restless because we took an afternoon nap, (because who does that right?), and now we have deadlines (some even self-imposed) to meet. This circus of performativity has been quietly shoved down our throats, consistently, contentiously through years of conditioning.
Social Media & our FOMO
The instant gratification of another ‘Like’, another ‘Comment’ is the reason you are hooked on to social media. This in turn just transforms into an attention economy for someone else. Your attention is being paid for by large conglomerates that push out the right ad, with the right tag line to capture your attention. ‘Spend only 1 hour each day and learn Chinese’, ‘Jobless? Use this time to learn a new skill’.
The system somehow has convinced you, that you are not enough, and at every given point you must up your game. You must fit into this constant race of doing something, creating something, achieving something, and even before you know it, your worth is tied to the number of hours you spend being productive. Social media is filled with influencers who hustled their way into success. And suddenly that becomes desirable, you fail to justify why you want it, but you just do. Is the hustle justified? Do you really believe that at the end of this rut, you truly do get to see the rainbows you were promised?
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” – Jim Carrey. The rainbows lie within the journey itself. As Christy Ann Martine quotes “Happiness lives inside of the smallest moments.”
So, can we all just take a graceful step back, breathe, and reflect for a minute here? Does your definition of success match theirs? Are you learning Chinese because you adore the language, or because you are competing with someone else’s resume? Are you taking up another course because it interests you or because it fits the bill of this ideal, hard-working person you wish to be?
Where did all of this begin?
Recently, a popular video called the ‘Batch of 2020’ by Anto Philip hosted several speakers across industries. One of the prominent messages I took away from a particular message from one of the speakers, Rega Jha, was that ‘education’ as we know has arisen out of the requirement for qualified employees during the industrial revolution. Earlier the ‘Education culture’ was therefore all about being the most subdued, disciplined version of yourself. Trained to be productive, obedient, and punctual. The training to be good, to be productive, therefore, has been a systemic structure designed to ‘straighten you up’. But the conditioning has been so ingrained, that it began to disrupt the world as we know it. Millennials have been the worst hit because we as a generation have seen the nastiest kind of academic competition, work culture competition, and promotion madness.
“Epidemic diseases are not random events that afflict societies capriciously and without warning. On the contrary, every society produces its own specific vulnerabilities. To study them is to understand that society’s structure, its standard of living, and its political priorities.” Frank M. Snowden, professor emeritus of history and the history of medicine, Yale.
Where do we go from here?
The question remains, do we stop this intelligently crafted chaos by some of the best minds in the world? In fact, is it even possible?
The pandemic occurred in 1918, yes, it is a big deal, a huge deal. We flinch every time we touch unsanitized objects, we look at people with suspicion- Our normal has changed forever. We are all in the middle of a black mirror episode. Quarantine, isolation, and social distancing are the prominent keywords that have been recurrently used throughout this pandemic. Studies suggest Isolation and minimized social interaction are known to change sleep cycle patterns and may also create hallucinations in extreme isolation. Humans are designed as social beings, isolations can make people more likely to feel depressed and pose problems in processing information that can skew the decision-making process, it also makes individuals more susceptible to general illness.
Isn’t it daunting enough that we are dealing with this isolation and mental health problems for the past four months? Isn’t it enough that we still continue to manage work from home, dutifully complete household chores, call family members on video calls, and be ‘productive’ all the time? Let’s take a step back, shall we?
Appreciating the beauty of nothingness
Be nothing, do nothing, feel everything. The longer we let the ‘hustle culture’ become an ingrained part of our ‘system’, the higher risk we pose of passing this on to the next generation. Why do we feel the need to constantly being ‘productive’ by any standard? Be it parental standards, organizational standards or personal standards.
Guys! We are doing enough; we are making it through a freaking pandemic. My dear, that in itself is something the psychologists & scientists will talk about for years to come, that’s how huge this is. Productivity for some may not be a choice, of course. It could be bringing food to the table.
Besides, there is beauty in slowing down, in stillness. Here’s what I leave you with.
- The Haitian rebellion that ended chattel slavery was kicked off by yellow fever
- Shakespeare wrote the revolutionary writing masterpiece, King Lear, while in quarantine
- Isaac Newton wrote his initial papers on Calculus. In fact, it was around this time when the ‘Theory of Gravity’ was discovered
This doesn’t mean you need to write something; it just means you can be yourself. Any and every version of yourself, without the pressing sword of guilt and productivity looming over your head, threatening your sanity.
If you haven’t heard this lately – ‘You, my love are enough.’
- People who oppose period leaves: Check your internalized misogyny - August 19, 2020
- The big fat Virginity myth - August 10, 2020
- It’s okay if you didn’t learn a new skill during Pandemic - July 15, 2020