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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

September 26, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Commentary: Toxic competitive culture harms student psyche

My time at Ithaca College has been invaluable to my professional and personal growth. The Roy H. Park School of Communications is where I braved harsh winters, wrote weird screenplays and made some of my closest friends. I have become a person my 18-year-old self could not dream of being. Though I will ultimately look back on my education with fondness, I recognize that the culture fostered within the Park School fed into a festering insecurity of mine. 

As a doe-eyed freshman, I joined an appropriate amount of extracurriculars to get involved and meet new people. As weeks went by, my peers would tell me how they were barely surviving while taking the maximum amount of credits, helping on projects and running clubs. Even with a decently busy schedule, I could not help but ask myself, “Why am I not doing that? Am I doing enough?” 

To be short, I was definitely doing enough, and you probably are as well. Despite knowing this, every semester I would overpromise and give more of myself than I could. Having spoken to friends who also feel this way, I believe that we as college students inadvertently perpetuate a competitive culture surrounding our work that is harmful and unproductive. It is a culture of our own making that fills every idle moment with unnecessary anxiety. 

Keeping busy is not a bad thing. I have learned a great deal through being busy. However, being busy also has currency. Being busy lets others know that not only are you capable, but you are not sitting still. Especially in Park, busyness acts as a badge of honor. How are people going to know that you are working if you do not show them?

I am in no way exempt from this bad habit. I took pride in working myself to the bone. Telling other people how busy I was felt like my efforts were validated and that the late nights spent working in the library were not for naught, because someone knew I did it.

This was certainly the case whenever someone told me about their hectic schedule. At that moment, there is a primal urge, on some level, to compete. It is a sport that has no winner and no reward other than the brief satisfaction of having proven that you are also not letting time pass you by.

At times, it feels like we were set up for this from the beginning. The competitive and inevitable post grad job search has always loomed overhead, and, while some competition can inspire and motivate us to succeed, working ourselves to exhaustion is not the accomplishment we have made it out to be. So where do we go from here?

To cure workaholism is to ask a generation wired with the need to prove itself to take a step back and say, “I feel content.” This will not change overnight, but there are small steps we can take to unlearn the destructive ways we speak about our work. As a reminder, your busyness does not exist in competition with someone else’s busyness. You are not your work. Most importantly, you are going to be just fine, no matter how long you take.