Have you tried just being better?
Let’s set the record straight: You belong to the grindset. Only taking a standard course load of four papers this semester? Why not take five, even six? In fact, why not work full time while you study, and make sure you’re racking up the extracurriculars and societies for that well earned distinguished graduate award while you’re at it. Your reward for all this? A few counselling appointments, funded by the uni to manage your chronic stress. Somehow, in between your three labs, five tutorials and two jobs, and their chronically overburdened wait list, you might snag a session.
This kind of productivity rhetoric is everywhere we look: on social media “day in a life videos” where other influencers are rawdogging some disgusting wellness shot, 10 hours of study a day, and then their super hot partner that night. It’s overheard stand-offs between pretentious interns desperately trying to one-up each other with the amount of work they have to do. It’s the stack of assignments, the never ending fear of course failure, the pilates and green juice trend, the pressure of internships and graduate roles.
I, too, used to fall victim to the woes of hustle culture. I was insufferable. Every pin on my silly little high school blazer was a badge of honour. Every club or council I was part of was a display of my intrinsic worth. Then, in my first year at university, I got really sick. I have since been diagnosed with three chronic pain and fatigue conditions: fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis, and endometriosis.
Being disabled has changed my entire world. I have had to completely reassess my needs. My uni experience now looks like this: no conjoint, no honours, no summer internship, and years of part time study. Daily lunchtime naps between classes, accompanied by comments from classmates telling me they are jealous I get a space to nap on campus (like it’s a flex I need 10+ hours of sleep a day not to pass out by 2pm). Taking such a different approach to study and to life at first seemed like a step back, and I was constantly worried others were judging me for it. I felt like a shell of the person I once was, envious of those with the capacity to do more. Three years post diagnosis, now wouldn’t reverse the roles. My time is more my own. I can listen to the cues of my body, because I know myself so well.
As exams and final assignments approach, join the movement to denounce hustle culture. Your wellbeing extends beyond eating a couple of pieces of bruised fruit here and there and trying your best not to get blackout drunk every weekend. You don’t have to make drastic life changes; you don’t have to buy a reformer or a peloton (TikTok girlies, can you clue me in on how you’re affording this? My card declined at Strata last week). Improving your hauora can be done simply, and thankfully, on the godforsaken pennies of the student loan. Try a new hobby, cook dinner for your flat, set downtime away from screens and uni work. If this semester has been really fucking you over, consider reassessing your courseload for the next one. Time at university is unique in that for the most part, you’re on no one’s time but your own. Make the most of this relative freedom to find healthy ways of living that work for you.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how others perceive your decisions around your health. Productivity culture, though appealing, is often a slippery slope to physical and emotional stress.
Let’s be real: that finance bro working his ass off in the big four who demeaned you on a first date for taking a day off study once a week? He might have more money than you in thirty years, but he’s also going to have a receding hairline and permanent frown lines. If nothing else: health might not necessarily be wealth, but it sure is sexy.