University students often find themselves in positions where downtime is scarce and sleep is merely a myth. With full-time classes, part-time jobs, and extracurriculars designed to make résumés pop, life often feels like a train careening down stretch after stretch of track, as far as the eye can see. Often, we might wonder if any of it is really worth it — if our exhausting routines will pay off in the end.
In the real world — a world not modelled by academia and APA citations — rewards are not given simply because you are the hardest working or the most qualified. In Forbes magazine, Cindy Wahler writes about how she was always an exemplary student and advocate of hard work, shaped by her parents’ efforts. However, she also discusses how in the workplace, those who did not go above and beyond in their efforts were promoted before she was, and how this was incongruent with her previous conceptions of what it meant to succeed.
What we find when escaping the university atmosphere is that success is not necessarily directly connected to work ethic. One cannot assume that perfectionism, integrity, and perseverance will inherently result in reward. There are a number of factors upon which success hinges: workplace politics, sexism, and racism must be taken into account. There are also times when hard work just goes unnoticed.
These barriers undoubtedly take a toll on individuals in the workforce, and it can be frustrating to feel as if they cannot be broken down. This does not require an abandonment of our goals, but a shift in perspective with respect to the things we cannot change.
In Psychology Today, Diane Barth discusses how hard work is not enough to overcome issues such as mental health concerns. There are many situations that are so beyond an individual’s control that they simply cannot be worked out. The difficulty is when these instances come into conflict with the workaholic mentality that any obstacle can be thwarted, any mountain climbed.
I know from experience how much my mental illness has acted as a detriment within my daily life. Not only has it put me into difficult situations, it has aggravated feelings of failure when I could not resolve the issues I was faced with. Never mind the fact that expecting an individual to thwart forces beyond their control is like swimming upstream — the mental battles I fight with myself are draining and often difficult to win.
This does not mean that hard work has no merit. The issue lies not in effort itself, but in our attempts to go beyond what we are physically capable of until we make ourselves sick with anxiety. Obsession with being the perfect version of ourselves means that we often forget to treat ourselves as humans, and it is widely acknowledged that a lack of self-care only makes stress worse.
It can be tempting to pick up that extra shift at work or volunteer for an extra commitment. It can be tempting — as I’ve learned this year — to write a column, choreograph a musical, and work three jobs. But it is not sustainable, and if your schedule does not crumble in on itself, your body or your mind will.
To be hardworking is arguably one of the noblest traits a person can possess, but there comes a point at which it threatens to destroy you. Personal achievement should not come at the expense of your welfare, and self-created stresses only hinder your progress. Sometimes the real work lies in respecting your limitations.
Jenisse Minott is a second-year student at UTM studying Communications, Culture, Information and Technology.