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Opinion: Why I quit the circus

Overworked, overburdened: hanging onto side gigs isn’t always what’s best for student health and academics
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DANA TORS/THE VARSITY
DANA TORS/THE VARSITY

Whenever my shy first-year self mentioned that I not only worked at a circus but performed there as my casual, part-time job, I would usually be hit with questions and looks of disbelief. It certainly wasn’t the typical side gig, and the release of the critically reviled but commercially successful film The Greatest Showman added yet another slew of questions. No, we do not cage animals at our circus. Yes, Zendaya and Zac Efron oscillating each other while “[rewriting] the stars” lacked realism.

And though everyone at my workplace poked fun at the inaccuracies of the movie, it did illuminate the glamorous facade that is often associated with the circus. While teaching circus classes had regular hours and a steady paycheck, performance gigs felt a little bit like a secret life. Seasonal events would often take place during off-work hours, and jobs for corporate parties inserted me into crowds of people I’d never see again.

The pay was good, the job gave me excellent stories for the hundreds of icebreakers all froshies endure, and aerial circus is an art form that I love. So why did I stop?

Despite the fact that the extra bucks I was making lessened the impact of U of T’s outrageous tuition, I realized that being a full-time student, volunteering, being heavily involved in an on-campus club, pursuing my own aerial training, and having a personal life in which I could be present with the people around me was just too overwhelming. This was not accounting for balancing circus gigs on top of that.

Saying no to a stream of revenue that allows for creativity sounds like the exact opposite of what our current culture tells us to do. We’re constantly bombarded with slogans telling us to “hustle.” Famous figures like Elon Musk urge us to push ourselves into the longest work hours we can possibly handle, and our peers are trapped in the same productivity-hungry cycle. Countless books have been written claiming to unlock the real key to productivity, and in turn the true path to fulfillment and happiness.

“Sleep less, work more” and “Don’t stop ‘till it’s done” have become daily mantras that people proudly live by.

However, as I know all too well, producing more isn’t going to make you happier. That’s not to say joy can’t be found in work and passions, but reaching ‘girl-boss’ status will not automatically raise you to a level of put-together, pre-packaged happiness.

This issue isn’t unique to overworked students either; being stretched too thin is an epidemic in all walks of life. You can see the conversation brewing with counter-cultural releases like the book To Hell with the Hustle: Reclaiming Your Life in an Overworked, Overspent, and Overconnected World, which are attempting to challenge these norms.

I’m not telling you that not pursuing anything is the way to go, and that all work has to be laid aside during your time at university. But I’m also not telling you that as long as hustling is coupled with copious amounts of self-care it’ll be okay either.

You cannot anchor your self-worth, self-esteem, or identity solely to what you produce. As cliché as it may sound, existing and being a human being with thoughts and emotions already makes you worthy of rest and care. And that’s not to sound overly optimistic and removed from reality — there’s just so much more to reality than our small, centralized spheres of what we make and do.

Dana Tors is a third-year English student at Trinity College.