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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

“Too busy” is too much.

Picture this: it’s the first day of school. Except, if you’re a college student, you’re not just a student. You are an intern, an employee, a friend, a volunteer, a member of student orgs. Oh, and if you want a job, you should not just be attending student organization meetings. You best be leading some, too.

The first day of school isn’t just your welcome back to campus. As everyone returns to campus with stories of studying abroad, interning for state officials and traversing the globe, it’s also a welcome back to something more stress-inducing and far less fulfilling: toxic productivity culture.

Toxic productivity culture is the need to constantly “do.” It tells us that if we’re not improving, personally and/or professionally, we’re losing. In toxic productivity culture, the biggest badge of honor is to be “too busy.” To have too much on our plate to be able to grab coffee with friends or call our parents means that we are needed elsewhere and everywhere. 

We’re important. We’re improving. 

As a junior at UW-Madison, toxic productivity has hit me hard this semester. Freshman and sophomore year felt like trial runs. It seemed to me that none of us truly knew what we were doing. We were all in this big old figuring-ourselves-out mess together. 

Or so I thought. Coming back to campus, I’ve felt pressured to play catch up with my peers who seem to have their post-graduate lives put together. 

Personally, I’ve never interned. I’ve never had a leadership position in college. Insert: panic. Before my first class of my junior year, I found myself anxiously googling volunteer opportunities in the Madison area. All of a sudden, my schedule of classes and homework—both of which I came here to do, as a full-time student—wasn’t anywhere near enough. I wanted to be busy

However, as I scoured the web for any and every resume-boosting opportunity, it occurred to me that in high school, I had dedicated similar energy towards being accepted into the very best college possible. I enrolled in AP classes, volunteered at different community events, and participated in student organizations. 

Now, I’m at UW-Madison. I am a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I write this twice because I have given myself very little time to truly recognize that I’m at the place my high school self dedicated four whole years trying to reach. I stepped foot on this campus and before looking around and marveling at the fact that I was actually, finally, here—my mindset had already shifted. My brain had already moved towards the next goal and to the next four-year plan. 

Whether I’m producing or not, toxic productivity culture has been ingrained in me to the point where I never let myself stop, slow down, and simply enjoy where I’m at. This semester, I’m striving to loosen toxic productivity’s grip on the way I lead my life.

I’ve realized that someday, I’ll likely have more of it figured out (maybe I won’t). Maybe I’ll have a career that I love (maybe I won’t). Maybe I’ll be living in some far-flung corner of the world (maybe I won’t). As young adults, toxic productivity culture pressures us to figure out all these maybes and to test out every single one of them. ‘Maybes’ make up so much of our lives as twenty-something-year-olds, and with toxic productivity along for the ride, it’s come to dictate our lives. 

This isn’t the time for somedays and maybes, though. Because what I do know for sure is that on Wednesday mornings, my friend and I walk to get coffee on State Street. I know that it makes my mom’s afternoon when I call her on my way to class. I know that nothing turns my day around quite like a long bike ride along Monona Lake.

What I’ve come to realize is that none of these things represent time wasted. Putting this mindset into practice, however…I’m still working on it. I’m working to improve, yes, but at my own pace. And this time, it’s not for a resume or a job. This time, it’s not for anyone’s joy but my own.

Hi, I'm Julia! I am a senior at UW-Madison, double majoring in International Studies & Legal Studies with a certificate in Chicanx & Latinx Studies. I love to travel and hope to teach or work at a nonprofit abroad someday.