The Glorification of Overexertion

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been personally victimized by a heavy course load, extensive extracurricular events, and doing your best simply to be a human. If this is you, know that so many of us have been there too.

In a culture that seems to demand hyper-efficiency, staying ahead of the curve, and keeping busy, it’s easy to fall into this habit of glorifying exhaustion. After all, everyone we know appears to be doing it, even if unintentionally or unknowingly. When we take a step back from reality and begin to analyze our daily vocabulary around exhaustion, we realize it’s often coupled with overexertion.

Many students at the University of San Diego are no different: we are the dreamers, changemakers, and over-achievers of college campuses. If we aren’t in a class, you can most likely find us in a club meeting, working a part-time job, or writing research papers in the library, not to mention salvaging any free time we can find.

It’s relatively easy for us as students, to stretch ourselves too thin, to bite off more than we can chew. The world is out there, and we want to chase after any opportunity we can to grow, to learn, to be a part of something greater than ourselves. Whether that means building intentional community with friends, exploring San Diego, or juggling school, work, and studying, it seems harder for us to stop, take a step back, and take a deep breath. Nevertheless, we tend to be inundated with messages shouting at us to do more, to be more, to be better.

USD junior Julie Lai reflected on this incessant desire for us as students to pursue busyness and overexert ourselves in the process.

“This whole concept of busyness comes from the fact that we live in a production society,” Lai said. “We, as a culture, have come to believe our worthiness is measured by how ‘useful’ we are to others, [using] arbitrary numbers and titles. As students, we seem to be on the never-ending pursuit of this 21st century romanticized virtue of busyness.”

Evelyn Schaffer is a fellow college student and a content creator at online blog forum The Odyssey. Once realizing that she wasn’t immune to this romanticization of exhaustion, Schaffer acknowledged that she became frightened by its implications and consequences.

“I have caught myself gauging the quality of my performance and the quantity of my accomplishments by how busy I feel and by how overwhelmed I am,” Schaffer said. “When all I’ve had to ‘eat’ for days is coffee and sugar-free Monsters, I somehow contort this self-destructive behavior into believing I’m conquering the world.”

Our society not only highlights this overexertion as something to aim for, but it also romanticizes it more and more. Actresses have a baby, and, within a couple of weeks, they are back in a principal role, starting a new skincare line, and more in shape than they were pre-baby. What we don’t see behind the scenes is the stress, exhaustion, and busyness looming over many of these women. Instead, we see someone who has it all, something we want, and we go full speed ahead to attempt to attain it.

Lai proposed that our movement toward admiring and romanticizing busyness creates an illusion that we as students, as human beings are objects.

“In the process, we objectify ourselves,” Lai said. “We deny our humanness. We pretend to be machines and try to ignore our emotions and limits. But we are human. We are ridiculously human. And that’s a very good thing. Because, by the very fact that we are human, we are already worthy, dignified, and important. This means we don’t have to chase this illusion. We are not made to just be useful. We are made to be fully alive. We can only do that if we first know our humanness and, by that nature, our worth. Besides, there is no satisfaction in chasing our goals and dreams if we lose ourself in the process.”

Similar to Lai, an anonymous author once quipped that this overexertion, this exhaustion that we seem to look up to in the media and in our daily lives, is not something to admire.

“I’m tired of people romanticizing overexertion,” the author said. “Exhaustion is not the new chic, coffee (though a delicious necessity) is not a food group, and running on fumes is not admirable. Why do we hold pedestals for sleepless nights, breakdowns, and inner turmoil? Are those things really [something] to aspire to?”

In our make-it-happen culture, we sacrifice sleep and sanity for results and rewards. We may privilege saying yes over possibly disappointing someone by saying no. We’re all good and busy and hanging in there, or so it seems.

As changemakers with a planner full of activities, particularly in this first month of school, it can be hard for many of us even to realize that we might be overexerting ourselves. Sometimes it takes burning out because of our exhaustion to uncover this truth in our own lives. It’s time for us to be honest with ourselves: we need peace, balance, and rest in our lives.

Let’s take a collective step back, take a deep breath, and affirm to ourselves that we can do this. You can do this.

Written by Gianna Caravetta, Copy Editor