We shouldn’t normalize overworking

Melina Khan, Associate News Editor

Illustration by Connor Lawless

As students, we’re conditioned from the moment we begin our college career to think of the future. After all, we’re all here working towards a common goal: to get a job after graduation.

Reaching that point to some extent depends on how we spend our years of postsecondary education. The internships, jobs, grades and extracurriculars that make up our resume will be the first things employers learn about us, and the pressure of that is overwhelming. Oftentimes, it leads to burnout.

Burnout is defined by the American Psychological Association as “physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance, and negative attitudes toward oneself and others.”

A 2020 study from the APA found that 87% of Gen Z respondents attributed their education as a significant source of stress, which leads to burnout.

I’m a part of that 87%, and until recently, I didn’t see an issue with that.

As a student in an accelerated program, I’ve always felt like I have to do more in less time. On top of that, as someone pursuing a career in the already crowded journalism field, it’s always felt important to me to diversify my experiences to stand out from the crowd.

These sentiments led me to commit to an on-campus job, two internships and my role in The Chronicle on top of taking six classes this semester. Let me spare you the details and tell you it has been the most exhausting semester of my life.

On the weekdays, between working 20 hours for one of my internships, I barely have free time, and the free time I do have is spent doing homework. On the weekends, I balance my time between writing and editing for The Chronicle and the remainder of my homework, as well as trying to prioritize having some semblance of a social life.

But this is not where I want to complain about being busy. We’re all busy, and if we all complained about it, we’d be too busy complaining to get stuff done.

This is where I want to tell you, the reader who can relate to the 87%, that it’s OK to slow down, and more importantly, it’s OK to say no.

I know that’s easier said than done. I learned that the hard way.

Submitting to the hounding of my mother, I visited my doctor this week to learn the long-lasting cold I’ve been battling developed into an ear infection. This week was also when I said out loud for the first time, “I don’t have time to go to therapy anymore.”

Getting to this point, one where I had let both my physical and mental health become secondary to the things I devoted my time to in order to develop myself professionally, made me realize that no job, internship or commitment was worth losing myself over.

The fact is that there were signs I was getting to this point all along. I’ve already battled a sinus infection and ongoing concussion this semester, and I haven’t gone to therapy in months. The difference was that I refused to acknowledge the ways I was letting myself go because I thought I had to wear myself down to feel successful.

Success shouldn’t be measured by all the ways we wear ourselves thin getting there. Success should be about prioritizing our own happiness while also pursuing opportunities and gaining experiences.

Most importantly, we’re never going to be this young again. We’re never going to be able to have the same experiences we’re having now in college again. As students who are collectively working our butts off, we deserve to enjoy ourselves too.

Burnout is normal, but it shouldn’t be. Make time for yourself, and make sure you have time to do things that make you genuinely happy. Take the time to get your nails done, go to a hockey game or grab food with friends. The work will still be there when you get back.