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My Problem with Toxic Productivity

7 mins read

I am tired. That’s it.

I have learned to work and to be productive in this society. I know that that is the only way to make it where I want to be – especially in a global pandemic being efficient seems to be the one thing that keeps me going and gives me a reason to get out of bed. What would be another solution? Staying in bed? I know that I could not do that.

However, being productive for the sake of being productive does not sound very healthy to me. On the other hand working and being active in my hobbies and studies is something that comes natural to me. I have multiple things to do on my schedule and even when I take time off, I feel like I am doing something wrong.

When I came across the term “toxic productivity” it really struck me that more people than me could have this problem. It is the phenomenon of an unhealthy obsession around being productive and improving yourself.

I know that building habits takes time and effort. That is why I dedicate a certain period of my day just for the things that I want to improve on. My normal routine that includes studying, societies and hobbies start afterwards. Additionally, I have experienced a period before where I did not have a lot to do, and I noticed that boredom and stillness is probably one of the things that I fear the most.

The society that we live in praises the successful people, built around the idea of the “American Dream” of making it with just enough blood, sweat and tears. As an adult, I know I should be able to look beyond that, I cannot help but joining the illusion and hope of “making it someday”.

I do not even know what “making it” means exactly. And because no one seems to know the definition of success we never stop. After one award, accomplishment, diploma strive for the next. Being ambitious is amazing. It gives you a goal to fight for. However, when you sacrifice mental and physical health, social connections and your own happiness for a goal that is not even defined and predetermined by everyone else’s opinion, is it even worth it?

Sometimes when I work on myself and my habits, I have the feeling that it is more about forming a perfect person, some sort of machine that works efficiently, than a human being with flaws and emotions to integrate in the equation.

What am I looking for? Is it really the ability of expressing your opinion freely and creatively and getting paid for it? Or is it the unstoppable pursuit of success so that my family and others can applaud me?

The intrinsic struggle between my own expectations on me, which are high enough to be fair, and those of the people around me creates an invisible weight that I have the perception of having to carry all the time. I know that many of my loved ones in my life would never want to create that effect on me. However, the appreciation of people feels like a certain type of fuel, maybe even drug that keeps you going, when you don’t want too anymore.  

Have you ever achieved something that you always wanted and felt the absolute emptiness that follows afterwards? When the applause dies down and you sit on your chair in your room. Think about all the effort that you put into your project and you know that you want to start something else now.

In the matter of fact, I love what I am doing. I am genuinely happy when I am writing, studying and planning other projects. But the feeling of never being able to take a break. The fear of stopping and staying back while everyone else is thriving can be the start of a vicious cycle that does not end. I have certain picture of the person that I want to become, and I think, one of my deepest fears is never achieving that image of myself, or the life that I would like to have. Maybe my anxiety about taking a break comes from the drive of reaching my goals as soon as possible. It could also be the fear of stopping once and never getting on track again.

It has helped me to clarify what I want and why I want it. Everything is achievable in a healthy way with a good balance of work, social life and self-care. I must remind myself of this often. I know that I am not a machine and I am not supposed to be. My routine and my goals are giving me a direction to focus my attention. However, planning time to take a breath is not only important for my mental health but also for my work. My creative writing and other projects reflect my headspace and flourish when I have had some time to get inspired once more.

I am tired. And I love my work. But I must rest sometimes. Balancing both is a challenge that I am ready to approach.

Featured image credit: Pexels Free Photos

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1 Comment

  1. I think that ‘people pleasing’ / ‘seeking external validation too much’ can also be a big driver of toxic productivity. I know we will always social beings and always somewhat rely on other people’s validation/appreciation of ourselves. But I think that to find what you truly want and what you truly would like to achieve you really have to take time and reflect on whether or not you are doing something because you ‘think you should do it’ or because you somehhow enjoy the process. Anyway, interesting article, thank you for sharing!

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