As my undergraduate career nears its end and my job search begins, I’ve started mulling through the standard set of post-grad anxieties. Did I choose the right degree? Is my resume going to land me a job, let alone one I want? Did I make the most of these four years? Yet, there’s another lingering question that keeps coming to the forefront of my mind: did I overextend myself?
Yes, I did. I consistently worked myself way too hard. With each passing day, I spend more time speculating on what this culture of overextension will mean in the next phase of life. The doubt I’m feeling isn’t in my sense of self, but rather, in the possibility of how unhealthy my life could potentially become: what will I do when I am overworked and overextended and not successfully making ends meet? We’ve hit a point that is unhealthy and unnecessary, and our social dynamics aren’t encouraging us to feel positive in regard to ourselves or our work.
We’re taking the risks, but the rewards are getting fewer and farther between. Culturally, we’re at an impasse: our meetings and email threads are increasing in number, but our time-management skills can only get us so far. We’re conditioned to be constantly available and we’re facing continually growing demands of both efficiency and flexibility. Suddenly, the world around us is saying everything we did might not be enough, which means it’s time to get creative.
It’s time to rethink what it means to use a degree. Not every DWA major is going to end up at the UN after college; not every English major is going to write a bestseller; not every pre-med student is going to cure cancer. Perhaps instead of upholding the trope of a single image of success in each of our ideas of a “field,” we should reconsider what it means to succeed personally and apply that to our uncertainties in a way that reminds us of our capabilities.
Moreover, we’ve gotten to the point where in order to feel good about the fruits of our labor, we’re practically destroying ourselves. We’re on a ship that has already sailed, but we can still make it work. We have to find ways to give one another the space to think about what we’re doing instead of just being so wrapped up in it we don’t have the chance to be critical, grow and take something away when we’ve called it a day.
One of the only positive outcomes of all this stress is how it highlights the importance of compassion. In times as high stress as these, the smallest expression of understanding or encouragement can motivate you to finish a given task. The competition and possibility of success have derailed our growth, rebranded and bureaucratized our experience as students and changed us from learners to workers. It’s time to recognize how we can help one another in the face of consistent overextension: through mutual affirmation and collaboration to lighten each other’s workloads.
We’re in a position where ceasing feels like failure, which it shouldn’t, and we’re in need of support more than we ever anticipated. We see this support employed constantly by activists and community-oriented work, but rarely do we encounter positivity and compassion in our work environments. Journalist Miwa Sado recently died after logging 159 hours of overtime in a little over a month. She’s not the first and she won’t be the last. It’s time to counteract. We’re working so hard we can’t appreciate what we’ve worked for. We have yet to change these unhealthy dynamics and we aren’t working to adequately care for one another.
It comes down to working together to find healthier ways for everyone involved to work, learn, grow and function.
If you’re feeling constantly on the brink of burning out from your schedule, ask how we’ve come to the point that any of this feels normal. We’re working ourselves into oblivion and we’re coming out of it feeling like we haven’t done enough. It’s time to reformat how we counteract the toxic work culture of normalizing our over-exhaustion, expand our horizons and recognize our abilities to develop healthier work habits.
Karim Sharif is a senior English major. He can be reached at email@example.com.