Over spring break as I was on my third hour of binge-watching the latest season of “Queer Eye,” I was struck by a sudden pang of anxiety. What was I doing? Sure, I thought, it was spring break — but I should be doing something and not just sitting around watching TV.
Maybe I should get ahead on my schoolwork, fix up my resume or apply to some internships. I shouldn’t be wasting my time relaxing!
In my moment of panic, I was reminded of a meme I’d recently seen making the rounds on Twitter and Facebook.
In the meme, a man drawn in the style of a typical wikiHow illustration is just trying to relax. Behind him, four apparitions of himself hover behind him like devils sitting on his shoulder and nag at his conscience, whispering “capitalist definitions of worth” and suggestions like “monetizing my hobbies.”
One of the four clones is bugging him with the same anxious thought I myself was struck by while just trying to relax and watch TV. There is a constant feeling that “I should do something,” something other than just enjoying myself.
This restlessness and guilt associated with having fun seem like an increasingly common phenomenon among young people these days — a tweet of the meme of the man tormented by productivity has more than 22,000 likes and 58,000 retweets on Twitter.
We feel like we’re not allowed to relax, associating relaxation with laziness and self-indulgence, and that we need to get back to the “grind” as soon as possible.
This feeling can probably be largely attributed to the internet, which keeps us plugged in to so many other people’s lives. Every time we go on social media, we are confronted by our peers’ posting about their latest achievements and influencers flexing their wealth and popularity.
Constantly being bombarded with this type of content breeds not only a jealous obsession, but an inescapable pressure to achieve and have the same things.
There’s also an insane pressure by the media to achieve things at a younger and younger age. This seems to have originated with the Forbes “30 Under 30” lists and continues with news such as the recent headlines that Kylie Jenner is the “youngest self-made billionaire.”
That’s true, but only if you call building a business with the help of your rich parents who have tons of industry connections “self-made.”
Pressure of this sort can be healthy to a degree — it may help you set goals and work harder toward them. But constant concern with money, popularity and productivity for the sake of being productive is bound to put dents in your self-esteem and cause your mind and body a ridiculous and unnecessary amount of stress.
Defining your self-worth — the subject matter of the meme I cited before — in terms of your productivity, your notoriety or the amount of money you make is a losing battle. Our society purports to be a meritocracy where if you work hard enough, you can achieve whatever the so-called American Dream is.
But this isn’t our reality.
Our society is built on so much inequality that it’s a complete lie to say hard work will always pay off, and if it doesn’t, you’re not working hard enough. The overwhelming majority of the United States’ billionaires are white males — and I am certain that has absolutely nothing to do with how hard they work.
To work ourselves to death, stress over this delusion about “success” and rely on it to make us feel good is to set ourselves up for inevitable failure. It’s exactly what the system wants you to do.
Because we’re so constantly surrounded by the ideas that you have to “work hard to play hard” and often define people by their monetary “success,” it can be insanely difficult to fight off this feeling every waking minute of your time has to be spent working toward achieving your career goals.
That voice in the back of your head telling you to be more productive can make life’s simple pleasures impossible to enjoy. Why make art, read a book or watch a film when you could be doing something “more productive”?
But there’s no shame in doing things just for pleasure without having an end goal to accomplish — and you don’t have to center your life around having a successful career. Living your life in an enjoyable way and doing things simply for pleasure nourishes your soul and makes you feel human.
It can be tough to feel human in our money and celebrity-obsessed culture, but giving yourself the freedom to just “be” is the greatest resistance against it.