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Mental Health

My Toxic Relationship With Hustle Culture

Since the beginning of June, when my first year of college ended, I questioned what I needed to do to keep myself productive. It was my first summer in a really long time where I did not have summer classes or a job. It was also my first summer experiencing an ongoing pandemic that seems to not get any better. 

During my first week of summer break, I allowed myself to do anything that I wanted without feeling guilty. I was proud of myself for completing a quarter online, on top of facing other personal challenges. However, my guilt of unproductivity came along quickly right after that.

When I started to deconstruct why I felt this guilt, I realized that the workplace will be more and more competitive in the next several years. I felt my imposter syndrome take over my body. As a humanities major, I constantly think about how I will find a sustainable career path. I do not have a 'safety net' from my family; unlike many students pursuing a creative field. I think about how I do not have an established film portfolio or how I do not feel confident as a creative person. I think about how production projects will be on hold for a while and how networking will be done virtually, which is not ideal. Note: I am about to start my second year, so I need to give myself a break from worrying about this so early on in my college years. I know that these are reasonable worries to have, but I also know that it is a privilege to worry about these things. I am so grateful that I can continue my education at a university, even when it is online. 

The bottom line is that I do not do well with extreme levels of competition. There is this constant need to adapt, and I have a hard time catching up with the changes. 

Since I was very young, I have always been an ambitious person in clubs and extracurricular activities. I am not bragging in any way because this ambition caused more damage than good in my life. I question whether my ambitious, career-oriented personality comes from my Capricorn traits or simply from childhood trauma. I personally think it may just be from both. I realized that maybe overworking myself was out of a need for validation and attention from others. Also, I had to grow up with the false, patriarchal idea of the “American Dream” and dealing with the model minority myth as a young, female Asian immigrant. There is obviously a lot to unpack here.

I recently read a quote by Dr. Gabor Maté that stated, “For those habituated to high levels of internal stress since early childhood, it is the absence of stress that creates unease, evoking boredom and a sense of meaninglessness. People may become addicted to their own stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol.” 

I realized that I had been defining my self-worth with the extracurricular activities I was involved in on and off-campus since middle school. I am so used to my exhausted, overwhelmed, and burned out self that I now feel like I am not myself without feeling like so. When the pandemic started, I was forced to stop. The internship I was involved in was canceled, and so much change has happened. This pause was so unfamiliar to me, and it really did make me feel empty. 

The quote was a wake-up call for me to stomp on the breaks and allow myself to breathe. I will not ignore the fact that I am naturally ambitious and career-oriented. Still, I will not let that fully define me. I am putting on a level of unnecessary stress and anxiety when I am always thinking about the future. This is damaging because I am using energy to think about something that I can not control. It is impossible when the world changes every day. 

With this new sense of self-awareness, I am on the journey of unlearning my destructive, unhealthy, and overworking habits and creating nourishing ones. Practices that allow me to feel at peace with where I am and be proud of all my achievements (big or small). As a creative person, I need to cherish my time and energy and use them wisely. We live in a capitalistic society where overworking is rewarded, but it is possible to create a balanced life that works best for all of us.

Rehana is a Japanese-Libyan writer and digital storyteller from the Inland Empire, CA. She is pursuing double degrees in Film & Media and Ethnic Studies with an interest in screenwriting, creative non-fiction, and oral histories. A proud Capricorn, she enjoys acting in short films, reading tarot cards and science fiction, roller skating, and visiting museums in her free time.
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