Being a university student with your entire life unplanned is sufficiently scary to push you into a cycle of feeling worthless for not doing anything "productive" then latching on to every and all opportunity vaguely related to your field of interest. That too for the sole purpose of validating your existence by adding one more line to your resume.
This cycle of shame for not being productive enough followed by productivity fetishism is what constitutes productivity anxiety, a state of mind where you feel anxious if you do not resemble an ultra-efficient machine utilising your time to maximise your productive output. Especially for undergrads occupying the liminal space between a student and responsible adult, anxiety runs on an all-time high if you do not feel you are doing enough to make yourself worthy of the job you will soon be seeking.
Caught in the relentless grind, we are systematically objectified into individual production houses where our self-worth is measured by achievements and efficiency. Add the "every parent wants their child to be an overachiever" in this dehumanising mix and you get the perfect social setup to create a group of young adults who are perpetually stressed and constantly overworked. Yet they cannot seem to outrun the anxiety and subsequent self-loathing because if you are not topping your classes, publishing research papers, starting your own business, profiting from your creativity and doing five internships simultaneously, are you sure you are doing enough?
As we are quick to accept a perpetually anxious student but sceptical of a constantly happy one, it is easier to believe the former to be normal. In reality, it is just a sign of having internalised the capitalist narrative which should be questioned, not worshipped. The good news is, no matter how much your surrounding wants you to believe there is no room for negotiation between an all-rounder and an utter failure, like most things in life, there is always a grey area where you can choose to be human instead.
While I will not suggest you waste your money on the newest Rupi Kaur poetry collection, her poem "Productivity Anxiety" is worth giving a read. Sadly, reading a poem will not magically solve the bouts of anxiety chasing after you but it is a start and no small solace. From there it's consciously choosing not to compete with your peers, being selective about your side hustles and understanding that taking rest is not a sin.
The distorted tale of productivity and self-worth is not only something we have internalised but also something perpetually emphasised by our social setup, making the process of breaking free twice as hard. So, remember to take your time. And for now, let me remind you that the thinking-feeling part of your existence cannot be measured by the number of vaguely relevant internships you managed to land.
Tazreen Jahan Bari is a final year undergraduate student who deals with her anxiety by binge-watching questionable k-dramas. Send her K-drama suggestions at email@example.com