In every interview I’ve had, the employer has asked me what I think my biggest weakness is. A typical interview question, which I answer in the same way I’ve always done. “Sometimes I can take on too much, because saying ‘no’ feels like I’ve failed.” But in the height of lockdown, I did something I never imagined I would for my self-care – I gave up.
Where resilience is seen as a sign of strength, we see the act of giving up as the antithesis of our society. A society that’s dependent on rapid progress, leaving no room for the weak. Life, after all, is a competition. If you decide to take a breather halfway through the race, whilst everyone else sprints on, it’s safe to assume that you’ve lost.
The earnest push for constant progress is never better documented than within my LinkedIn feed. A platform that prides itself on hustle culture. If it’s not a #GirlBoss churning out multiple digital marketing qualifications, then it’s a first-class student who won the prestigious departmental award. The post I had mentally drafted about my own small win dissipates. I develop a kind of LinkedIn imposter syndrome. The platform for these superhuman overachievers surely has no place for my comparatively pathetic successes. The problematic aspect of hustle culture is that the other side of the coin is never seen.
“If you decide to take a breather halfway through the race whilst everyone else sprints on, it’s safe to assume that you’ve lost.”
Existence becomes even more of a competition if you’re a young person trying to break into the adult world. Once you graduate from university, life suddenly becomes a lot scarier than the safe land of the student bubble. You find yourself flailing in the sea of countless other grads with identical CVs, battling it out to reach the entry-level job lifeboat first. When I graduated earlier this year, I realised the harsh reality of one vital detail – I can’t swim.
Finding a job after graduation is a struggle normally, let alone in the middle of a global pandemic. Suddenly you find that the waters are now shark-infested. As the summer came to a close, my fellow finalists and I had to accept that we had lost our last university term. It was supposed to be the term of dreams, where all the plans we missed out on to study could finally be realised.
“You find yourself flailing in the sea of countless other grads with identical CVs, battling it out to reach the entry-level job lifeboat first. … Add a global pandemic to the mix and suddenly you find that the waters are shark-infested.”
That was all cut short and I was heartbroken. I could hold my certificate physically in my hands as proof that I had graduated. But I had none of the closure I needed to properly shut the door on my student status. Feeling somewhat stuck in the void between student and graduate has only exacerbated my imposter syndrome. I’ve been employed for six months now, but sometimes I still feel as if I’m a kid on work experience.
Going into the first lockdown, I was in a particularly stressful situation. I had a dissertation to write, exams to complete, and the shallow pool of a job hunt to dive into. But despite already having an overwhelming amount to deal with, I succumbed to the new grad panic that I wasn’t doing enough. So, I continued to add more to my plate, and then wondered why I felt so mentally drained at the end of the week.
I made to-do lists to feel like I had some sense of control, then felt helpless as the tasks piled up. Activities I once enjoyed doing, even as low-energy as reading a book or messaging a friend, felt exhausting. I grew increasingly irritable and withdrew to avoid snapping at my family. But in the silence of my bedroom, I felt overwhelmingly lonely and attempted to repress that by making another list. And so the cycle continued.
The idea of a ‘productive pandemic’ has made more of us feel like we’re wasting an opportunity. Amongst the chaos, hustle culture has seeped in and convinced us that even in a lockdown, we still have to compete to win. In the name of self-care, I did finally let go of some of the goals I had set myself at the start of April. It took me a while though, to accept that I didn’t have the capacity to take it all on. It’s an ongoing process. I still compare myself to the people I see online. And get the consequent urge to start new projects I definitely don’t have time for. It’s a habit I just can’t switch off.
“I saw ‘giving up’ as a negative trait because of the preconceptions I had about what success looks like. If we reimagine success, however, that all changes.”
Despite giving up on some aspects of my life, the goals I have achieved far outweigh the things I let go of. I started a small business, graduated from my degree, and landed a job I love. I gained some valued new friends, strengthened existing bonds, and made memories I’ll always treasure. The last few might be outside the normal parameters of ‘success’, but they’re up there as some of my proudest achievements.
And maybe that’s the lesson here. I saw ‘giving up’ as a negative trait because of the preconceptions I had about what success looks like. If we reimagine success, however, that all changes.
If success becomes a healthy mental wellbeing and dedicating time for yourself, then suddenly giving up ‘productive’ work isn’t so much failure. It’s actually a way to achieve that image of triumph. As the boundaries between home and work become ever more blurred, maybe it’s about time that prosperity was instead measured in the metric of happiness.
At the start of lockdown, I was at risk of drowning under the pressure I placed on myself. Now that I’ve embraced that giving up is a sign of self-care, I’ve worked my way up to treading water. I might not ever make it to the big leagues, but I’ve learned and accepted that success is measured by your own benchmarks. And for me, for now, staying afloat is a win.
Sadia is a 22-year-old culture and lifestyle writer who loves a good sentimental personal piece. She is currently on the team at #ThisMuchIKnow News. @sadianowshin