The Guilt of Being Content
If 17 years of study (and almost 24 years of living in a western society) has drilled anything into my mind, it is the thought that I should always be doing something.
Through hundreds of assessment tasks, hours of homework and exam preparation, followed by internship and job applications, it always feels like there is something to be done. A new task to work on and complete, followed by another and another and another. As my mother regularly exclaims, “It’s never ending!”
But now that I’ve finished my degree, I’ve reached a strange limbo – stuck between a qualification and a full-time job but with little intention of moving forward too soon.
I no longer have the stress of multiple assessment tasks due within 48 hours of each other and I’ve decided not to rush into full-time work, but rather continue at my casual hospitality job for the next few months and enjoy summer.
So when I have free time, it is pretty much just that. Free.
My job doesn’t call for me to prepare anything before I walk in the door. When I come home at night, there are no essays to write, no applications to fill out. My time is my own to do with as I please. And so I do. I catch up with friends, I go to the beach, I laze around in the backyard drinking in the sun’s rays and complaining about the humidity.
And yet always in the back of my mind, there is this nagging feeling, like I’ve forgotten something. It’s the reminder from life that I should be doing something more. The guilt of enjoying life and not being more productive or constructive.
Last year, Forbes Magazine Online published an article with six signs indicating when someone is addicted to productivity. I related to three of them.
Are you acutely aware of when you are “wasting” time? Do you beat yourself up for it?
Are you a slave to your email inbox? Compulsively checking it or feeling like your phone is an extension of your arm?
Have you ever rolled your eyes when your friend says she’ll finally get started on that side project she’s been talking about for months, yet you do exactly the same and rationalise it by thinking you’re too swamped?
Society has drilled the need for production into our psyches and our daily routines. It has made us feel that anyone who is not busy is lazy. That anyone who has time to take a break, to read a book, to do nothing and enjoy it is useless and slothful. We envy those who take holidays from work, but those who decide to work less are seen as bludgers.
I was brought up with parents who constantly worked over time, both paid and unpaid, for the sake of my siblings and I. And I am so utterly grateful for their hard work. For their dedication, determination and their selflessness. But I don’t want to wait until retirement to enjoy my free time. This is my youth and I want to spend it how I like.
Society always teaches us to meet goal after goal. To continue to grow and learn and succeed. And these are all important aspects of life. But isn’t the end goal of it all really just to enjoy it? To spend more time doing what we like and what we want rather than working all of the time. That’s what my parents have been working towards for the last 35 years. So why then do I feel such guilt about spending time doing what I want?
I feel as though I haven’t worked hard enough to enjoy leisure time. That I don’t deserve to spend my time how I like. Almost that I have to suffer more before I can be relaxed and happy. Maybe I think that way I’ll appreciate the rarity of it all and not feel underserving and guilty.
The expectations society places on people in terms of work load and productivity are outrageous and unhealthy. We have technology and apps that can make our work more organised and efficient; however, all they have done is cause our work to enter our homes and invade our leisure time. Work has taken over the lives of many, and for those it hasn’t – including myself – we are made to feel less dedicated, less determined and less worthy of enjoying life.
I know more hard work is on its way for me. I don’t plan to be in this limbo forever. Eventually I will have to stand straight again, and become a full-time adult. I’ll be working for the man (or hopefully woman), jumping through hoops and wishing the only thing to complain about was the heat.
So, for now, I will continue to spend my time beach hopping down the coast, walking aimlessly through local markets, sitting all day in bed watching Kath and Kim and listening to the same playlist of songs on repeat. Because that’s what I want to do. And I’ll be damned if society tells me I’m lazy. At least I’m happy.
Cover by Marciej Serafinowicz