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When we enter high school, we begin our journey on a certain path. But really, it begins much before that–at least in my experience. When I was in elementary school I experimented with what seemed like every hobby on the planet: jazz, tap, ballet, soccer, basketball, painting, drawing, piano, swimming, and more. At this age I was to experiment with every activity so that I could find one I’d stick with. What was I good at? What did I like? And if the two could overlap, then I would find something that I would excel at. Through middle school, I built upon the hobbies and skills I discovered. I was sent from camp to camp to heighten my abilities, so I could be comfortably proficient in something that others were not. Come high school, and we further involve ourselves in becoming these perfect, college-ready, well-rounded students. All in the name of a good college that I would be happy at, just a few more years of pushing to the finish line. What do you want to study? Where do you want to go? Enter college. We’ve arrived at what we’d hope after this long is our university of choice. But the pushing doesn’t stop as you’d think it would. What ARE you studying? What do you want to do? We’re little fish in a big pond now, but given the fact that we were big fish in a little pond previously, there is no way we step down now. Say yes for success, try everything, get involved, your network is your net worth!  Summers roll around, but before we get there, we have to prove ourselves to anyone who will give us a chance at a summer internship. Only then can we proudly answer the questions “what company are you working for?” and “what are you doing there?”. This culture is what I call the industrialization of self.

From a young age, we are conditioned to commodify our skills and talents to achieve a traditional definition of success. In our society, our success is based on our profits and profession, which we believe can be achieved through intelligence and hard work. The industrialization of self is a product of this belief, and we practice our whole lives to become masters of trade. Throughout my life and the lives of my college peers, we have been conditioned–without knowing it–to strive for more and to be competitive to ensure that we will have success. But it’s all in the name of a secure future, a happy one where we are pushing boundaries and breaking ceilings, and living our dreams. However, it becomes a tunneled vision, a narrow mindset. It’s a hamster wheel. Going, going, going. Running, running, running. The faster you run, the faster you have to push yourself to keep up. But if our heads are down working towards the next goal all the time, how are we going to train ourselves to look around and enjoy the essence of being that does not have to do with accomplishment? The industrialization of self is the road to a fruitful future, but it doesn’t serve us the way it promises to. While this culture teaches me how to work hard, and how to find a profession that is aligned with my personality and values, it hinders my ability to live a full life. When profession and the future consume our identity, it backfires. If we don’t wake up to this realization now, it’ll happen later in our lives, after we have been a victim of this culture for too long.

College is supposed to be the best time of your life. Yet, it seems like so many of us are rushing through. But why are we trying to race past the greatest years of our lives? Our generation–or at least our campus–is extremely competitive. We want to push boundaries and push ahead, but at what expense? As I look around at myself and my peers, we are not just competing against each other, we are competing against ourselves. We invest our energy into our future, but how much energy do we invest in ourselves? We’re chasing to grasp those big dreams, but will we even notice when we get there? We are constantly asked about what we do, not who we are. Who am I? 

This is the question I asked myself at the beginning of the semester. I was at a Women Empowerment Conference, and everyone was asking about how they could be indispensable, and what pieces of advice the women on the panel had to share so that we could become the most successful versions of ourselves. I sat there slouching in my seat–this advice wasn’t empowering women, it was empowering individuals. In the first two years of college, you could surely find me sitting in the audience of a career talk furiously taking notes. But at this point in my college career, I was feeling burnt out and I had muted the other parts of myself that needed tending to. I had said yes to so many things, proved myself and earned recognition. I was confident in myself–I believed that I could achieve my goals in the future. So why was I still moving at a million miles per hour? It was my muscle memory telling me that I still had to go through these motions, that if I didn’t keep building on my path I’d be the one left behind–and I refused to let that happen after all I’d invested in myself. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I share these feelings with students among my college campus and Generation Z at large. 

This work-hustle mentality isn’t one that is new to American culture, however, it seems to worsen with every generation. Millennials are consumed with work, and thoughts regarding work. According to Malcolm Harris, author of Kids These Days, “efficiency is our existential purpose, and we are a generation of finely honed tools, crafted from embryos to be lean, mean production machines”. Millennials view themselves as “‘work martyrs’”, and are “less likely to use all their vacation time” than their older colleagues (Carmichael). Their beliefs and actions prove that their lives are dedicated, rooted, and committed to professionalism, a value that has been passed down to Generation Z. However, their dedication to career does not go without repercussions. Millennials are stressed and worried–mostly over the concern of self-optimization. With technology we make ourselves constantly available, we can work from home instead of the traditional 9 AM to 5 PM constraints. This idea of always being online drives our desire to be indispensable in the workforce, furthermore 48% of Millennials want to be viewed by their bosses as work-martyrs (Carmichael). Another report states that Millennials are motivated by and experience gratitude from finding jobs with better benefits, more pay, better hours, and more work-life balance, as well as work that is intrinsically rewarding (Zilca). Generally, their view of the world as a generation has become terrifyingly narrow and they are suffering because of it. We are relentless in the pursuit for more. 

I’m riddled by anxiety when I don’t do work. I feel ashamed when I have free time. I’ve been searching for someone to tell me that it’s okay to slow down and enjoy college and life. To take that nap, to go to the beach, to enjoy time with my friends without being swallowed by the thoughts that I’m lazy. I struggled with the idea of slowing down. If I did, would I lose sight of those goals and ambitions I had worked so hard for? What I learned is, you have to slow down to speed up sometimes.

In the process of building up my resume, I had numbed and muted the other facets of my identity. The industrialization of self is a mindset that promises a great and open future, but in the process, I had been channeled into a small mindset and closed off the other doors of my life. I was asked, “who are you?”. I said, my name is Anushka Joshi and I am an aspiring Creative Director who wants to design media for social change. And? I was flustered. What else could they possibly want to know? In that sentence alone I thought I had communicated that I was a leader, compassionate, creative, and driven. But I wear more hats than just my dreams and ambitions–we all do. I am a sister, a daughter, a friend. A mentor and mentee, a community member, a yogi. I love to read, go to museums, travel. I’m learning more and more about food and music every day. These are the revelations that I reconnected with throughout the semester. I was so caught up in my future that I had no intention of slowing down to enjoy my life today. Get up at 7 AM, and get home at 11 PM. I thought that was the only way that I could prove myself.

By focusing on what we can do to propel ourselves into the future, we are not living in the present moment, and more importantly, we believe that there is something better waiting for us in the future. The industrialization of self is strongly linked to destination addiction. Destination addiction, according to Dr. Robert Holden is “a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job”. Destination addiction is about the finish line, rather than the moments in between. Each moment and action is transactional for the next milestone or accomplishment. When we hope that our happiness and pleasure are waiting on the other side of success, we are robbing ourselves of the moments that bring organic growth and meaning. 

We spend so much time and energy figuring out what we want to do with our lives. But do we know how we are going to do it? College is about creating practices and habits that you can keep in your toolkit to carry with you for the rest of your life. It’s about being able to sit and analyze, to ask questions of why things exist the way they do, and to learn about the world in it’s full. But being a student is not just about learning from books–it’s about so much more. College is about learning how to be a student of not just the world, but of yourself too. It’s a time where we get to explore what our interests and values are. I’m constantly reminded that we have the rest of our lives to work and that college is a time to be present and live deeply, and soak up whatever life has to offer. It’s simply a moment in time. Look up. what’s happening around you?

In the middle of my awakening to the other facets of my identity that I had previously ignored, I was searching for an adult that I admired (besides my parents) to tell me that it was ok to slow down. To take the time to figure out what was best for me, and to validate that I could slow down without sacrificing my dreams. I wanted to know that someone before me had experienced what I felt and that they addressed and responded to their needs but still ended up in a position I aspired to. So, I turned to my mentor. I asked her what her college days looked like–with a hope that she would read my mind and tell me what I wanted to hear. Instead, she told me about her 17 hour college days, and I was momentarily discouraged because yet another person validated that long hours was the way to life. 

In our traditional college education, we try to mediate and troubleshoot risk before it comes our way. We are provided the tools and resources to ensure our success upon graduation. The connections we foster will land us that dream job. Our education will prepare us for our industry of choice. We learn to validate our ideas depending on what size of the market it promises to capture. The formulaic mission statement should be enough to communicate our ideas. Join the club, join the executive board, get good grades, go to office hours. Yes, these are all important, but does it take away from the risks and failure we have to experience as humans? The industrialization of self is supposedly a safeguard against failure. If we work hard enough, then we’ll be successful, right? We’ve been blessed with this high education, but it’s left us floating in the sky.

The linear narrative that we’ve been conditioned to believe is not the only path to a successful and happy life. It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to hear one of the most “successful” people in the world speak that I truly could leap new ways of life. Sara Blakely is the founder and CEO of Spanx–a multibillion-dollar company. While her financial success is what has earned her prestige, I believe that it is her lifestyle and values that are what makes her a successful person. Her story is non-linear and she attributes failure and her most human qualities to her financial success. Blakely worked at Disneyland and then sold fax machines for 7 years as a college graduate. Despite building an enormous company, she never let it consume her life. She extends herself in having three hobbies to work on at all times: one that makes you money, one that keeps you in shape, and one that allows you to express creativity. This concept counters the one-track mindset perpetuated by the industrialization of self. Life is more than just a career, and by grounding ourselves and our identity into multiple facets of life rather than just one, then we can truly living life to its fullest potential. 

People used to work to live, but today it feels like we live to work. This pervasive culture of the industrialization of self views professional success as a vehicle to happiness when in reality it has demonstrated itself as detrimental. It limits our view on what life has to offer and bullies us into a corner. It’s hard to find organic gratification through this system of accomplishment and destination happiness. That is no way to live. Despite the history of this value system, I have faith and confidence in my generation. The life of the industrialized self is outdated. There is a bigger picture at stake: reclaiming the essence of who you are outside of doing and being. For the sake of the individual, let it not be about the destination, rather let it be about the journey. Not every interaction or decision in our lives has to be transactional. Let it be about fulfilling oneself in the moment and achieving balance for overall well being and satisfaction. To strengthen and invest in the other facets of who you are as much as you invest in the future. And for the sake of the collective, together, we can channel our drive and ambition to bettering the world as we know it. The intersection of our culture and habits, with the pressing needs of the world now. To problem-solve together and attack those issues, and to be hand-in-hand, stronger together. 

Originally published at www.GEN-ZiNE.com

More Thrive Global on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis