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You Can’t Finish All of Your Readings and That’s OK

While “hustle culture” has instilled the belief that you can consistently maintain productivity to complete all your tasks, there are certainly gaps in this notion when we consider modern human existence. We don’t plan for moments of family members calling us with important news in the midst of doing homework, getting hungry in the middle of catching up with Zoom lectures and unexpected moments of tiredness. The incessant obsession with productivity doesn’t often leave room for nuance, and promotes a robotic vision of humanity as working machines. This ultra-productive ideal, despite it being unrealistic, is resonating for many, especially university students whose workloads are consistently packed with ample assignments and readings. Its appealing nature is heightened by academia itself; to offer a personal perspective, each of my professors presumably assigns, on average, around 150 pages to read each week and expect us all to get it done. Technically, I could get all this done, and perhaps at times, I have. Reflecting on the weeks I have managed to diligently annotate and read every text, however, have often been periods of time where I have forsaken my own mental and physical health. Some would maybe argue that this sacrifice is merely temporary and part of the university experience, but while the occasional all-nighter and Red Bull is not entirely detrimental I think it’s dangerous to encourage students to routinely push aside their health for academics. I would also argue, challenging the contentions held by many instructors, that the ambition to get everything done is not worthwhile in the first place and that learning how to prioritize your work is just as important as learning said work.

I’d like to preface that I am arriving at this conclusion from the perspective of an English major. As a comedian and fellow English major, John Mulaney once exclaimed “I paid $120,000 for someone to tell me to go read Jane Austen, and then I didn’t” regarding his degree, he hints at a very relevant truth for many in our field: we simply do not read all of our books. Or, we may look at every page of a book, or skim a book, but whether that counts as reading is subject to debate. I don’t take any pride in not reading everything; I love literature, hence why I chose to pay to study it, and if I had all the time in the world I would be delighted to take the time to really get into every text assigned. Aside from hustle culture deriding moments of non-productivity, it is another reason why I beat myself up for not completing every book; it thereby makes me feel like an impostor for saying I love literature in the first place. “Maybe if I really loved books,” I say to myself “I would be immersing myself deeply into every text.” But then I realize that while I love books I also love spending time with my family, boyfriend, friends and going for self-care walks and getting an adequate amount of sleep every night, which means I may have to occasionally forego carefully read every page of my assigned readings. Sure, I carve out space –– and certainly most of the space –– in my daily life to do work, and during midterm and exam periods this time is even more extended, but it is still not adequate to finish everything. After experimenting with a vast range of study methods and approaches I feel like I can adequately reason that finishing everything –– whether barely or to the best of our ability –– is often a near-impossible pursuit.

As my semester is not even halfway finished, I still continue to hold myself accountable to be as studious as possible –– as possible under the belief that I have a life outside of maintaining a strong GPA. This means, yes, doing work, but also not feeling guilty for using SparkNotes to discover the last half of a book I have little desire to complete or speak, in class when I didn’t even finish the first chapter of a book we are supposed to have read by that day. I have done well on essays on books that I had to use Wikipedia to understand after skimming them, and while professors condemn the use of many of these platforms, I can almost definitively say that their university experience is also filled with times of being too hungover on a Sunday to finish reading a text for Monday. Sometimes it is better to laugh off moments of laziness or distraction in our academic studies, as a perspective of ease rather than of guilt often propels us to gain more motivation to complete our work after all.

Rachel Riddell

Queen's U '23

Rachel Riddell is an English major and History minor at Queen's University.
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