You are more than your productivity

Tenley Jackson, Columnist

One of my friends once told me that they limit fiber on days when they have an especially heavy workload, aiming to avoid “wasting time” going to the bathroom. 

Although it may seem extreme, using food or sleep as a reward for completing tasks is common college culture. Some students compare their levels of sleep deprivation, almost bragging about not getting enough sleep, or laugh about extreme caffeine consumption. All-nighters are constant, and basic human needs are pushed to the side. 

This is the absurd campus culture of toxic productivity: when hard work devolves into the sacrifice of a student’s health in an endless chase of maximum efficiency and accomplishment. Toxic productivity, also called “hustle culture,” exists in nearly all academic and professional spaces. In an age of constant access to technology, there is an expectation to be constantly plugged into our work or studies. Students need to be especially mindful of this danger.

At a competitive school like UT, students are more likely to feel obligated to live up to the school’s reputation. This can be a positive source of motivation for some, but it can also be a serious threat to a student’s mental and physical health.

According to the Newport Institute, “Feeling physically and mentally depleted, exhausted, unmotivated, irritable, and stressed — otherwise called burnout — is a common result of living in overdrive.” This response to overworking is associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety.

In a post-pandemic world, we are renegotiating our relationships with work and productivity. As a result, we are also rethinking the source of our self-worth and whether or not that comes from our work. 

“Until three years ago, I would have told you that there was effectively no limit,” associate professor of instruction Amanda Hager said. “That your worth was the sum total of your contributions, whether they be to family or society, and now I’m deeply uncertain about those convictions.”

Placing our worth on what we produce is part of what turns this industrious lifestyle sour. When students draw this dangerous connection between their personal value and productivity, they lose all ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance

Sydney Chung, a business honors freshman, described comparing herself to others based on accomplishment and perceived productivity. 

“There’s this need to prove ourselves to one another that we deserve to be here,” Chung said “But at the end of the day, I like to remind myself that we’re at a really good school, and wherever I end up is where I belong.” 

Occasional sacrifices, like an all-nighter for a test or working extra hours, may be unavoidable for students. However, you don’t need to work yourself to death to be a good student, a good person or to have a good life after college. 

If you or your peers are struggling to carry the weight of hustle culture, it may be time to reconsider where you place your value as a person. The second your health, mental or physical, is diminished for the sake of efficiency, productivity should lose priority. 

Ultimately, students are human, not machines. Our worth should not be based on how much we can produce. We are beautifully unique, not carbon copies of the same factory equipment. 

Jackson is a Plan II and journalism freshman from Boerne, Texas.