All members of binary and non-binary members of society, I have finally reached the point where I can no longer find any fucks in my reserve fucks bank. In the words of someone wise, I. Am. Done. I am done with the expectation others have of me giving up any semblance of balance for the sake of professional glory, and all the toxicity that comes with it.
Over the past couple of days, I’ve come to realise that single-mindedness towards any goal is overly romanticised, and not very healthy. Focusing on one thing to the absolute neglect of all others to achieve something is the sure way to burnout and imbalance. Not so sure about success – there’s a chance of success, but at what cost?
Funnily enough, this blog came to be at the end of a long period of single-minded focus which eventually led to burnout and my first therapy session. What I realised back then, and what I continue to maintain now, is that hard work is necessary, while overworking is foolish. There are very few things that absolutely need your presence, and while a loss of control over everything in one’s life might be a source of anxiety for some, the stress that comes with it is not worth it.
And that’s the thing about work – work generates stress at some level, be it physical, mental, emotional, moral, spiritual, financial, and so on. The phrase “Do the thing you love and never work a day in your life” (or as that phrase goes) is a nice thing to say to motivate people to follow their motivations and reach their goals, but that’s not completely true.
I love what I do, and feel like every aspect of my personality is entirely suited for the work that I chose to pursue. I love animals, I want to spread my love, I want to help in any way I can, and I tend to remember and recall most things that I read, hear, or see. It’s a privilege and a joy for me to be able to do what I do daily, but it will be foolish of me to pretend that it doesn’t physically stress me out, or emotionally drain me regularly. I have days when I cannot function beyond making myself a meal and hitting the bed. I have days when I want to cry and mourn the pain and death I see, but I can’t, because there’s something else that needs my attention urgently. So while I love what I do, there are days when I just need to get away from it all.
A lot of people I work with pretend like it doesn’t stress them out. A lot more romanticise the lifestyle and condescend over those who can’t keep up. A recent exchange I heard was between a student asking a professor for a few days off to go home and see his family, and the professor’s response was, “Why, isn’t this like your home? Who will handle these cases while you’re gone? I can’t permit you to go.” The same professor told me that my idea of going home on the first day of semester break was unwise, because if he hadn’t conducted the exams within the stipulated period meant for conducting exams, then he would have taken it during the sem break (which, by the way, is not allowed officially), and then what would I have done? (I later found out that this professor was on a power trip and wanted to screw everyone over perceived slights.)
When conducting exams during finals week (which is 10 days, actually) isn’t possible or taking a semester break isn’t an option, what the hell are you doing as a professor in an academic institution? But this sentiment, as I came to realise, is not restricted to that professor alone.
There are a lot of things messed up with the system, and this isn’t the only one. People stay in their position for so long that an abuse of power goes completely unnoticed or unrecognised. Power trips are normalised, egos are fragile and easily bruised, and unreasonable behaviour from a senior has to be accepted by a junior due to a lack of alternatives. That includes covering shifts with less than a few hours notice (Is it considered as a notice, at that point?), being put in situations with no help and no alternatives, and having to go along with whatever new idea the professor might come up with, regardless of how inconsiderate it may be. One of my professors insinuated that I might have to cancel my flight back home less than 12 hours before I had to leave, simply because it had escaped his notice that both I and my colleague were leaving for our semester break. I didn’t engage, ready to ask him for the full refund for my ticket if he persisted with that line of conversation. Thankfully, for the both of us, he decided to drop it, and I’m currently writing this while on my flight, with my mobile phone on aeroplane mode.
The past week, being finals week, has been a shitshow, to say the least. Surprise exams being arranged at the drop of a hat with no warning, addition, subtraction and multiplication (never division) of the year-end assignments given to us, unreasonable deadlines and atrocious demands had become so common that towards the end of the week, I was functioning with a baseline level of anger and frustration raging in the background of my psyche. I was churning out assignments and answering papers like a daily newspaper printing press, while still being expected to give my 110% during my hospital duties and department responsibilities. My plans of unwinding and relaxing the day before going home were quickly replaced by working till midnight to send out another assignment, and then spending the next hour and a half cleaning up my kitchen and bathroom so that I don’t return to a cockroach infestation when I return. I finally slept for 5 hours (a mainstay for this week, by the way), earplugs in to block out the noisy karaoke party my neighbours were having, before having to wake up to catch my morning flight.
And I give up on seeing the positive about my colleague. In one of my previous posts, I had talked about my colleague’s, who we had named A, inability to show competence. This finals week consisted of watching A have a mental breakdown multiple times a day and having to manage them to ensure they didn’t come and bite me in the ass. The constant whining, complaining and reacting over the last few days got to me to the point where when my professor asked me to talk to them about rescheduling one of our holidays and having one of us stay back, I told my professor that I would not be the one telling A that because I was tired of handling their mental breakdowns. And I meant it.
I have given up on seeing the positive. Being a good person does not give you a pass on being incompetent, and people who try to protect you for being good or sensitive or innocent are not doing you a favour. Although now, I’m beginning to realise it’s less about protecting A and more about the professors wanting to minimise their interactions with A. Either way, I no longer care.
Maybe other places are different. Maybe other places are just as bad, if not worse. It doesn’t really matter – every place has its ups and downs, and my experience here has come a full circle. And even as I go home and proceed to put all this behind me, I shall never forget this –
High levels of professional success, while rewarding, come with a price, and I no longer am in the market to sell away my peace of mind and my personal life to enjoy the ‘good job’ from a superior I may never be given wholeheartedly.