Has exhaustion become a status symbol?

The whole adage of doing more with less has somehow resulted in the perpetual notion that if you are exhausted, you must be important or irreplaceable. The amalgamation of technology and economic realities have created the uneasy feeling that we are always behind. We are all too familiar with the burden of not getting enough done. I, along with a throng of sleep deprived professionals, are all guilty of substituting much needed sleep with an array of tasks that really could take a seat on the back-burner.


Personally, I find myself constantly creating lists of things I need to do, not only at work but at home as well. From completing a task at work or completing a task at home, there is a surreal discomfort when your list of things to do becomes less as you tick things off completed tasks and an instinctual angst as the list grows, leaving you in a continuous state of alarm.

These lists have become signifiers of your importance in the workplace. The more you do the more valuable you are. It is both an elevating as well as disconcerting thing to instinctually reply to a friend’s invitation that, “Sorry I can’t go out tonight; I am crazy busy”.

What a numbing thought. You cannot go for one cup of coffee because you have instilled in yourself the idea that you are “too busy”. Without your list of things to do you might realise how exhausted you are, how life has managed to continue without you, how disconnected you are from your partner, how disconnected you are from your kids or how friends no longer invite you because – why even try.

I am guilty of this more than I would like to admit. In high school I had already adopted the very unhealthy habit of depriving myself of sleep. Not intentionally of course. It started out subtly with me staying awake for an extra hour or so, so that I could finish a project, either for school or one I initiated myself.

A few years on, it has escalated to the point where I am always exhausted, averaging about three hours of sleep a night. Of course it is still not intentional, or at least I try my best that it’s not.

I am not doing enough:

I have convinced myself, with assistance from my smartphone, that I am not doing enough. Although I work the whole day, there is a superfluous urgency to everything I do when I get home. As a student, I still have to study, do assignments, maybe do some upskilling in my profession and the field I am studying.

I imagine the same sense of urgency for parents returning home; helping with homework, cooking, getting kids clean and fed, listening to their stories or complaints and every other physically taxing aspect of parenting.

In the heyday people were tasked with one maybe two occupational responsibilities. You either ploughed the land, answered the phone, added a bolt as part of the assembly line or did the books.

Today, that is quite different. The relationship between technology and the modern work environment has resulted in one person doing multiple things, too much, some might argue. The expectations of what we can get done, and how well we can do it, are sometimes beyond human scale.

Furthermore, since your smartphone is always readily available and you can get your emails and reminders all night long, there’s no stopping, celebrating or acknowledging the accomplishment of anything. Instead of feeling pride or recognition, what everyone is instead made to feel is, “Thank God, I can get to the next thing on my list.”

Do not work around the clock out of fear.

A major shame trigger at work, is relevance. Our fear is that we’ll be perceived as irrelevant or dispensable if we are not constantly busy, or the first to respond, or if we do not respond immediately. That is why we sometimes feel we need to catch up on work over the weekend, or answer emails at one in the morning.

Do not work around the clock out of habit.

To create a culture of immediacy and around the clock availability you need participation of more than one person. And sometimes we are as much the cause as we are the victims.

That is why boundaries are essential. You need to establish when it is crunch time and when it is time for some rest and recuperation. Work and rest are mutually exclusive.

Exhaustion is not a signifier of your relevance or your status. It is a sign that you are doing something wrong and that you need to take a step back, set some impermeable boundaries between work and rest, and do yourself the justice of recognising what you have done. Be proud of what you have done and get some sleep.

Posted by Ewald


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