Many oppressive regimes put an emphasis on work. Work is the most important thing. Work is worth more than human life. Work is salvation.
These seem like extreme phrases, don’t they? That’s because they are.
Work distracts. Work leaves no space for creativity, for rebellion, for thought.
But the truth is that nowadays, university students in the United States still have a similar attitude towards productivity. Why is it that I feel guilty if I’m not working? Why do I have to pretend to be doing something productive when my parents open my bedroom door to check on me? Why is it that during quarantine I tried to pick up five new hobbies, made myself an inexhaustible list of books to read, told myself I would write an entire play and a novel, forced myself to work out every morning, took an online class, and woke up at 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. even though I had absolutely no commitments, having just graduated from high school in the middle of a pandemic?
In today’s society, we tie our self-worth to what we produce. You can’t call yourself a writer unless you’ve had your work published. You can’t proclaim yourself to be an artist unless your art has been hung on gallery walls. You can’t declare yourself a designer unless one of your designs has made its way down a fashion catwalk. Instead, you say that you “like to write” or that you “do art for fun.” The problem with this idea is that not only are we inextricably measuring our self-worth based on something that is NOT us, we are also leaving it up to other people to define. We let others decide what they should call us and what we are allowed to be called.
What if we decided that just by existing we are worth everything, not just something? What if we recognized that all who live and breathe are worthy? What if we gave each other enough grace to call ourselves writers, artists, and designers just because we create? What if we decided that we are enough?
During my high school years, I worked every second of every day. I didn’t have lunch because I would go to the library and work. I didn’t even give myself the break of a 20-minute bus ride home; I would listen to podcasts relating to my classes. If I had space to spare I would fill it up with study. If I did happen to watch a TV show or spend time with my family, my insides would burn with stress. I felt as though this was not what I should have been doing. Ultimately, like so many others, I tied my self-worth to grades: the measuring stick for my productivity. The result of this tragic tale is that when I got rejected from my dream school, I fell apart. I had trouble getting out of bed; I would avoid looking at myself in mirrors. I had failed. By my very own parameters, I was worthless.
Last year, I took a gap year and throughout it I’ve learned that breaks are good and that rest is important. Resting does NOT mean I am lazy. Resting is not sloth: it is not a sin. When I am rested I am a better, happier, and more complete version of myself. I no longer want to be a martyr to work. I will no longer play the “Who got the least amount of sleep?” game.
I still don’t feel entirely confident that I’m worth a lot most of the time. I don’t always see myself as valuable. I still feel guilty for taking a break. I still feel ashamed for taking three hours to write and only coming up with a few dull sentences that I may never use. But now I’m making a vow to myself. I promise to take breaks, to rest, and not because I always have to earn or deserve them, but because I am human. I need breaks, I need rest, I need play. We all need these things, but we are so quick to deny them from ourselves. And for what?
I am just as worthy at rest as I am at work.
I am a writer. I am worthy. And I will take fucking breaks whenever the hell I want to.
Celeste Borletti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org