Do Millennials Fetishise Productivity?
There’s always that one favorite cousin in the family, who wakes up at 5 AM to meditate and revise the previous day’s lessons, pays attention during all lectures, is up to date with social media and is going to intern at Microsoft for the coming summer. And then, there’s every other Millennial.
Millennials; who manage to sleep through eight alarms in a span of ten minutes, we are not eating healthy and we are definitely not performing well in college. But we are still quite there. Last I remember, we were thriving on self-deprivation, grinding through work and pulling off all-nighters just to submit that one assignment on time. We are most definitely not the ‘ungrateful, lazy, unambitious generation’.
This obsession with maximising the resources at hand (case in point: time) goes beyond just textbooks on neoclassical economists’ theories of optimisation. It runs in our blood. Internalised capitalism or a fetish for productivity, call it what you want. We feel we must work hard all the time and rest should bring on a bout of guilt. We are relentless in the act of pursuing something, to the point that the fixation with pursuance takes precedence over asking ourselves what we truly want. We take ourselves too seriously.
Our days are intricately scheduled because how else will we be content? The Starbucks way of life has inspired us to grind through the week to be able to enjoy the weekend. But that happy weekend never arrives. We work hard every weekend to better the next one. The drive to the movies is reserved for making calls, emails are catered to while waiting on a dinner date, backlog and future plans are left for vacations. All this with the hope of this professional development turning into essentially, what we call, a good life.
The anti-capitalism, social justice flag-waving, trying to embody ‘wokeness’ generation finds itself in a state of inner turmoil. Corporate lifestyles leave no time for leisure, ‘the basis of culture’ (courtesy: Josef Pieper, German philosopher). The normalisation of dissatisfaction with the existing work environment and of constant struggle is dangerous.
The pervading uncertainty in our lives contributes to our anxiety. The rapid development of technology has added to the fear of being automated out, more so now than ever before, and adapting to the highly dynamic work environments in different sectors is not easy either. Moreover, with the dwindling employment rates, it is safe to say the economy has not particularly been a friend. The apprehensions cultivating from the need to pay off student debt means we cannot switch jobs in this exceedingly competitive job market. The Millennials have, therefore, resigned to working excruciatingly hard in college and grad school to avail, at least, a job with decent pay. As long as we need the money and real estate, we will learn to live with the misery.
But it’s not just a mundane 9 AM to 5 PM job. There is also passion. Passion, because what is life without it? A reason to be fiercely alive, a way to be ferociously happy. Millennials spend a huge amount of their lives looking for a passion to offset the effect of stress. We love being unique, to do something different from the rest. So, we go the extra mile to stand out and outdo our peers. It is not called a hobby anymore, it is a skill. It is something we can have on our resume while being equally fascinating to qualify as something to post about on our social media. We attend galas, watch theatre, immerse ourselves in poetry, visit exhibitions and try extremely hard to keep up with pop culture. Even art is not for the sake of art anymore, it is something to be done; a territory waiting to be embarked upon.
The invasion of technology has wiped away the distinction between our personal and work lives in a way it had not happened for previous generations. With the convenience of always being able to send and receive emails, documenting at all times, we have brought the office back home.
We are part of a society which has taught us that stagnancy is acceptable, but quitting is not. The romanticisation of stability has made us layout an entire plan for our life. Being the generation that has inherited soaring housing, education, and living costs, settling down becomes the ultimate goal. It is not something that has come to us as a matter of personal choice. Our childhoods were meticulously supervised. Regular homework, summer classes to learn a new hobby, timely school assessments, yada yada. Things that do not eventually lead to a bigger goal do not belong in our lives, which is why we are always expected to know what we want. What to study, where to get a job, which job after the current one. Moreover, there is a sense of finality in every decision; the first decision needs to be the right one, otherwise, everything goes downhill. Quitting jobs we do not like is a sign of ‘impulsiveness’ and ‘weakness’. We all wish to achieve stability, what we end up getting is monotonicity.
We do life in bits and pieces. When we seek thrill, we resort to extreme sports (ah, passion). Finding a little bit of happiness to thrive on, in between life. In the fear of being left behind, we have reached so far ahead that we are blinded to all the life that’s happening outside of our work-home space.
I think we hustle because we are uncomfortable. The discomfort arriving from the feeling of losing out on time; the same time we spend watching inspirational videos on YouTube and scrolling through Instagram feeds, constantly reiterating feelings of inadequacy and of not being ‘good enough’. And for the rest, we know the drill. The drill of the hustle. Panic, dissatisfaction, failure. Rather, the fear of failure. As a generation, we were built to not be akin to failure. We tell ourselves these marks matter the most, this social gathering I cannot miss, if I do not get this job…
The break down of the journey has vanished, there is an origin and destiny. A far fetched destiny that is so flawless, we tend to make the path longer and more and more dreadful.
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