Being the busiest isn’t the best: Examining a culture of competition

By Taylor Milam

“How are you?” It’s a simple question, a nice pleasantry even. The majority of answers I hear to this question seem to detail the overwhelmingly busy life led by the person I mistakenly inquired after. I constantly overhear fellow students complaining about their busy schedules, part time jobs, overwhelming social calendars and above all, their lack of sleep.

Somehow, I missed the memo on the latest and greatest competition among college students: who is sleeping the least. I overheard a friend complain that she hasn’t slept more than five hours a night all week. My other friend scoffed in response and made it known that he hadn’t slept more than four hours a night in the past two weeks. On the surface, these people are complaining about their lives, but a deeper look reveals that they are actually engaging in a superiority contest.

Busyness has become equivalent to importance, and overworking is the new badge of honor. Relaxing is for those who are lazy, losers, and above all, unproductive. Unless one is hung over or sick, a day spent curled up with an entertaining book or favorite TV show is a day that was wasted.

In fact, without the stress of an overflowing schedule, piles of uncompleted homework, and a to do list that rivals Obama’s, it is assumed that one is simply not trying hard enough.

In a Psychology Today article written by Sherry Pagoto, these “badge of honor folks” are explained. They are people who use their chronic stress as a crutch or safety net.

“…Stress is [their] way of gaining a sense of control over [their] life,” Pagoto said. “[They] can use it as a tool to get people to do what [they] need them to, excuse mistakes, and shirk responsibility. [It] also earns a certain amount of respect by being “in charge” of all aspects of life.”

While it might seem easy to rely on stress as a go-to excuse, it’s ultimately only damaging to yourself. Constantly trying to prove something to an invisible audience is not only exhausting, but also pointless. After all, you’re the only person having to deal with the consequences of creating an overbooked life.

That’s not to say that stress is not a part of life. Zachary Ward, a junior at USD, is very familiar with a stressful week. Attending school full time while also working part-time at a department store is demanding and at times tiring.

“Some days I don’t get out of class until 9 p.m. and then I’ll have work at 9 a.m. I never have any free time for myself, ” Ward said.

As Ward knows, life can be exhausting, but he also recognizes that being busy doesn’t have any intrinsic value. When asked whether or not being busy held personal importance, Ward responded with a definitive no.

“Being busy is not important to me, being happy is more important,” he said. “Happiness does not correlate to busyness.”

There’s nothing wrong with working hard at activities you adore. In fact, work is part of a well-balanced life.

The problem arises when being busy becomes a part of your identity. It’s important to remember that life is more than a ball of chaos. It’s a beautiful, fleeting experience, and above all else, it should be enjoyed.