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While often well-intentioned, productivity gurus, motivational speakers, and StudyTube can unintentionally create unrealistic expectations of how people should live. Sometimes, it can feel as if you need to have a complex, sizeable array of stationaries with elaborate study systems and materials. Then on top of those material items, it can feel as if you have to wake up at 5 am every day to work out, eat the healthiest heartiest homemade meals, and have the best, most fulfilling friendships. However, this life is unrealistic for most students and even such “gurus”, who only show their best sides on camera. 

The most dangerous part of this culture, however, is the culture of toxic productivity manifesting in “hustle culture”. It’s an ingrained part of our culture to accredit people’s position in life and society to that individual’s efforts and work. We’re told things like “you get what you deserve”, “anything is possible if you work hard enough”, and “never give up”. While these messages are valid and inspirational, they require context and are often oversimplified, implicitly blaming people for their struggles and making boundary-setting difficult. This mindset ignores that everyone comes from a different background, thinks differently, and has different strengths. 

After reflecting on my own academic, personal, and social journey and abilities, I’ve learned some things about learning to validate my own experiences and feelings despite living in constant hustle culture. Here’s what I have learned/am learning:

Everyone has a different story and identity. 

Everyone works differently. Too often, we try to adjust to a one-size-fits-all method, but that doesn’t work. We also all come from different backgrounds and have had to face different challenges and boundaries. Different boundaries keep us from being able to be at the same level or excel as quickly as others. It’s unfair to set yourself to the same standards as people with experiences and strengths. 

Trial and error are essential. Don’t force what doesn’t work.

This goes with the previous point, but when receiving tips or learning about different study/lifestyle tips or methods, it’s important to try things out for yourself and evaluate how they apply to you specifically. Trying new ways for yourself and learning more about what works and what doesn’t work for you allows you to eventually optimize your time and energy. Don’t force what doesn’t work.

Finding your rhythm takes time. Be patient. 

It can be hard to be patient when you have a test coming right up or have immediate deadlines you have to face. In these cases, this doesn’t necessarily apply. In the long run, it’s good to be patient and not give up. Many people try new methods, but either give up or don’t develop a method, but finding your rhythm takes time. For most of us, finding our rhythm is a lifelong journey.

Validating your own experiences and emotions matters.

It’s easy to get frustrated and angry with yourself and your progress, but honor what work you have done. Wanting more and acknowledging weaknesses can help you can help you improve, but don’t forget to validate your own experiences and emotions. 

It’s okay to not know what you’re doing (sometimes). 

Often, we look around at others and think that everyone has it figured out, but the truth is, most of us don’t know what we are doing. Most of us are just trying and figuring out who, what, and how we will be the people we want to be. There will be times when you figure it out, and then suddenly things change. The confusion of figuring everything out can be isolating, but you may be surprised to find that it’s an experience many share with you. Asking for help and reaching out to people are key factors in battling that confusion. 

Self-advocacy goes a long way. 

Expanding on asking for help and reaching out, general self-advocacy takes people far. Most people can’t read minds. If we need help, the best way to get it is to ask, which can be extremely hard. Self-advocacy is more than asking for help when it’s dire, it’s being resourceful and asking for what you want when you know what you want and it’s appropriate. Self-advocacy can be the difference between just “keeping up” and “getting ahead”. Self-advocacy is, in short, fighting for yourself. Harnessing it is an incredible strength. 

Getting out of your comfort zone allows you to grow. 

Facing challenges, getting out of your comfort zone, and being persistent are what allow us to grow and evolve. Getting out of your comfort zone allows you to have different outcomes, see different possibilities, and experience different sides of yourself. Even when we fail or face setbacks, changing how we see those experiences as learning opportunities can allow us to grow. 

Setting boundaries is crucial and often overlooked.

Knowing your limits and setting boundaries is not only healthy but critical to growth. We live in a world where we feel like we have to say “yes” all the time, but it’s good to know how to say “no”. Failing to balance your time or pick your battles can have serious consequences, hurting not only our goals but ourselves as well. 

Ellie (she/her) is currently studying Sociology (with a concentration in Social Inequality) at the University of California, San Diego. Having experience as Glencoe High School’s Associated Student Body Director of Public Relations and Service and RAPID's Community Development intern, Ellie is skilled in communications and passionate about social justice and equity. Books, music, and food also bring Ellie great joy. Ellie graduated from Glencoe High School on the Leadership pathway and Civics and Community Service pathway in 2022.