From the Fallout Shelter

Penn State Harrisburg's Literary Arts Magazine

The Pressure of Productivity by Rachel Lenich

If you don’t come out of this quarantine with:

– A new skill

– Your side hustle started

– More knowledge

You never lacked time, you lacked discipline.

I’ve been seeing this quote all over social media recently, and I’m sure you’ve seen some variation of it as well. The message is simple: with an abundance of time away from work and social spaces, we should be able to direct our energy and output in other areas. The English major’s version of this sentiment is the fact that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was quarantined through a bubonic plague outbreak. If he could create this masterpiece (as well as many others) while in isolation, what does that say about the way we’re spending our time in quarantine today? Shouldn’t we be doing more than watching Netflix, baking bread, and playing Animal Crossing in our pajamas?

Honestly, I don’t think that now is the time to amplify our work output.

As a workaholic, it’s been difficult for me to step back from my busy life and to have so much unfulfilled time in my schedule. I’m normally either at school or at work six days a week, and most days I’m away from home for twelve hours at a time. I’m not saying this to brag, but to prove that I’m worthy– which is the exact issue that makes workaholics sublimate their emotions by staying perpetually busy.

Workaholics connect their identity and purpose to their productivity, and there is never an end to their output of labor. There is always more work to be done, there are always bigger goals to strive for, and there will never be an end where a sense of success and satisfaction can be reached. People live this way for a variety of reasons. Perhaps capitalism has taught us that we are only worth what we are able to provide for an employer. We could have a need for control, or we could be using work as a coping mechanism to hide from something else. Whatever an individual’s reasons are, we have all come into an identity crisis because of this pandemic.

What am I worth if I cannot be working toward something?

For those of us whose classes have been moved online, who have been laid off or whose income has been cut, we need to take this time to relax. This pandemic is a period of immense psychological stress whose effects will resonate long after this is over. It’s not the time to pressure others, and especially yourself, to start creative projects or pursue a side job. Grief is inhibiting our executive functioning. We are collectively grieving our job security, our dreams for the future, and our entire sense of order and stability. Nobody would pressure you to work harder while you’re grieving the loss of a loved one. Why would you pressure yourself while you’re grieving now?

I understand that it is a privilege to still have a job, and it could also be a hostage situation if you’re being forced to work excessively or without proper PPE. I understand that it is also a privilege to stay at home and suffer from boredom, which could be a hostage situation if you are quarantined with an abusive person. I’m experiencing both work and boredom right now, and I wrote this article not to neglect those who are less privileged than me, but to speak from my own experience that I share with so many others.

It’s time for us to release the idea that self-worth and productivity are linked. If you don’t come out of this quarantine with the draft of your novel, fluency in a new language, or newfound cross-stitching skills: it’s okay. You do not need to prove yourself.

You’re still important, no matter how busy you are.

 

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