Yes, it's okay to be unproductive during COVID
Natalia Shilotri is a rising Junior at Boston University. She is currently majoring in Business Administration & Management and aims to concentrate on Marketing. To see more of Natalia's written work & mental health-related content, please visit her blog: Unpublishedsince00.
A few days ago, I was on a call with a friend who felt incredibly distressed about her productivity levels. Rather than celebrating the bittersweet reality of sophomore year ending or the fact that we’d just gotten through an absurd round of virtual schooling during a pandemic - she felt increasingly concerned about the ‘next step.’ Internships? Summer Classes? Would we be heading back to school in the fall? The same fear of unpredictability that many individuals are currently experiencing.
If I didn’t observe the inflated anxiety in her voice as she anticipated her future, I would have celebrated how ambitious she was. The truth is, she had become a clear cut victim of ‘hustle culture’ - and after much reflection, so have I. Hustle culture is a concept that celebrates constant working; however, we’ve over idolized this mindset, and the result? WE become overworked, but that’s what leads to success, right? WRONG. We continue to have a misconception that hard work = success = happiness, however, that couldn't be further from reality.
For the past year or so, the hashtags #girlboss, #rise&grind, or #hotgirlsemester had exploded on my social media. I won’t lie, like anyone else, following these trends made me feel instantly inspired and motivated. It was an instant switch to a ‘Game On’ attitude. It felt weirdly good to feel so ambitious. Over time, this appetite to remain ambitious led me to feel constantly guilty if I wasn’t working every waking second of the day, or if I wasn’t using my time well. This urge to be productive drove me to feel like every second that I took to be more present, I felt I was wasting a moment of what could have been hard work. It deeply impacted my mental wellbeing, and I always felt on edge at all times.
So, why do I mention this? Simply because this ‘need’ to remain consistently productive has permeated through COVID.
None of us has been exposed to live life during a pandemic before. Naturally, to adjust to this new level of normalcy, many of us have resorted to finding new hobbies as a means of distraction - which is excellent! However, this unsustainable mindset (especially during a pandemic) can be dire to one’s mental health. According to the American Psychiatric Association Poll, almost 36% of Americans mentioned isolation during COVID has led to a severe impact on their mental health. Hustle culture has made a re-appearance, translating a message across - ‘if you don’t leave this lockdown period after reading a new book or learning a new skill, you have failed.’ There is a new societal pressure that forces individuals to believe that they’re not doing anything ‘productive’ enough.
Can I say we are literally in the MIDDLE of a pandemic, experiencing an economic recession? This fatal virus is sapping communities, ruthlessly killing the young and old, and leaving many jobless. It’s incredibly scary - and many individuals are struggling to grapple this ‘new normalcy’ without a loved one, or are simply experiencing anxiety due to the uncertainty of the future. So, yes, it is OKAY not to capitalize on internship opportunities or sign up for a new summer course!
As difficult as it may seem, don’t cave into the pressure of doing the MOST now, and don’t compare yourself to those that might find it helpful to pull through differently. While we’ve unfortunately been conditioned to believe that we need to be on this constant drive of self-improvement or achievement, we all have different coping mechanisms. Some of us are ‘do-ers’ during a stressful period, while others might seek to be. There is no ‘better than the other’ option.
So, if you need to - please, take this time to relax, grieve, reflect, or exist. It is more than okay to choose yourself over a new book, or recipe you have no interest in. Not wanting to develop a skill, or rather, choosing to focus on your mental health, doesn’t make you ‘less’ productive or skilled.
Choose to be kind to yourself today. Taking care of yourself is the ultimate prerequisite to thrive. So, hustle, if you need to AFTER, you’ve taken the time to reinvigorate. I can guarantee you the feeling is just as fulfilling. Know that you’re present, you are doing better than you may think, and you WILL adjust to this new normalcy in your way.
And, if you find yourself on the other end where you’re hustling - that’s great!! But, work because it’s what you want to do, and not because it’s what you FEEL you need to do. Don’t go to sleep emotionally exhausted, or compromise on your wellbeing. Do not lead yourself to a self-imposed burnout. Take one day at a time. Prioritize what’s important to you, and curate your ‘to-do lists’ accordingly. Reward yourself regardless of an outcome. And most importantly, give your mind and body some rest and practice a good self-care routine.
Again, this isn’t some competition for the ‘biggest transformation’ post-COVID - and if you find yourself on an episode of that reality show, then it’s time to tap out.