Updated: Jan 18
Right now, I am more exhausted than ever before. So much so that I saw a doctor. He started as you might expect by asking me if I've had any life stressors lately. Without really thinking about it I said, "I mean climate doom, and racial gender tension, and you know everybody has gone insane on the internet, and the pandemic of course, and then there's the impending economic crash on the horizon. So yeah, just the normal stuff."
It was a joke... or at least it was meant to be until I heard the actual words coming out of my mouth and felt the awkwardness in place of the laugh I was expecting. Suddenly I felt stupid for being at the doctor.
We're closing out the end of the second year of a global pandemic. I know you know this but I need to say it again for my own sake: We've been doing this for two years - and let's not pretend that things were all made of sunshine before that. And listen, I know we live in the most privileged place on Earth. We have vaccines and we have food and we can leave the house and live this pseudo-normal life but that thing is always in the background.
I want to draw your attention to that last word: background. Because of course, life must go on. But did we ever deal with whatever the hell has been happening around us? Or did we just try to go back to normal life and pretend everything is ok?
For most of us, myself included, the answer is probably the latter. And that's a huge problem, especially in the wake of a collective trauma. Think about it this way - 2020 showed up with a baseball bat and took a home run swing at your shin. It hurt. It broke skin. It cracked the bone. And you started walking on it the next day. You've been walking on it ever since. And just like a sore on the inside of your mouth that you keep accidentally biting, this thing is just not going away.
Our 'Just Do It', ' Suck It Up', 'Sleep When You're Dead', culture has a clear message for us: Fuck your physical or emotional needs and get back on the grind.
No big deal right? We just need rest. We can take a nap and things will be ok. All things heal in time.... If only it were that easy. We've been raised on this protestant work ethic that says that we must work. Even in times of genuine crisis, we must work. Remember when we were pseudo-quarantined and the internet kept telling us that we're supposed to be writing a novel or making sourdough bread? Our productivity obsessed 'Just Do It', 'Suck It Up', 'Sleep When You're Dead', culture has a clear message for us: Fuck your physical or emotional needs and get back on the grind. And many of us have internalized that message. We simply don't know who we are if we're not doing something.
We must create. We must be as useful as possible. We must produce. We must be interesting on the internet. As millennials we've taken it to a new extreme where we'll barely let ourselves have hobbies unless we can turn it into a side hustle or boast our accomplishments on the Nike Run app. Don't get me started on vacations that we spend getting good content for instagram like it's some sort of job. Everything seems to be about output.
The pandemic didn't cause this. We've always been people who pride ourselves on "working until the day she died" or never taking a sick day. It's embedded in our DNA and unless you've been living under a rock, you have seen one of the many studies that say it's killing us even when the world isn't on fire. The difference is that now, we're trying to run the marathon on a broken leg and this chronic exhaustion is screaming at us that we need to make some changes.
And so I want to tell you to take a nap. I want to tell you to take a break or a vacation or do some yoga or read this really great article about burnout. But what's happening right now seems to indicate that it won't be enough. We also might be learning that the demands placed on us by our work aren't the problem but rather the demands we place on ourselves. Trust me. I really want to blame this on your shitty boss because it's my favorite coping mechanism. I'm exhausted right now, remember? But I'm writing this instead. And I'm my own boss.
If this resonates, I'd like to ask you to consider the possibility that your soul is tired. Consider the possibility that you live in a culture that creates a lot of pressure to produce. Consider that we've been trying to get blood from a stone since before the pandemic began. And consider that you may be putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to get that promotion, or earn x amount of dollars, or workout every day, or read 60 books this year, or whatever the hell else we convince ourselves we need to do to justify our existence.
Based on the number of people basically refusing to work and the number of people who are talking about how tired they are, I'd say that the pandemic is showing us something about our nature that we're long overdue to see. Not only that, we're approaching a crisis point. For those of you who slept through 10th grade English, the crisis isn't the end, it's an incredibly difficult part of the story where an important decision needs to be made. The decision, in my opinion, is about what we will remove from or build into our lives in the name of returning to our humanity. And there's nothing better for feeling human than inviting peace in.
Peace is time with people you love.
Peace is doing something that you enjoy without counting the miles or minutes.
Peace is sleep.
Peace is forgetting your to do list.
Peace is building connection and joy rather than chasing a singular output.
Peace is letting go of the need to climb the ladder once you're making a comfortable salary.
Peace is being in nature and not telling anyone about it.
Peace is letting go of a narrative that you need a certain title to be successful.
Peace is doing work that fulfills you.
If you're tired and you can step back for a while to look at what's going on, I believe you'll find respite from whatever's going to happen. It won't happen right away and, I won't lie, there's probably a period of time when things will get worse as the need to justify your existence fights for its life. But things will get better. If you don't intervene, you'll be running on a broken leg until it breaks and likely taking pride in the damage you're willing to do to yourself in the name of output. I'm not here to tell you that's wrong. I'm just here to ask you if it's worth it.
Does this ring true for you? Or maybe you have a different theory? Let me know in the comments.