Throughout my life, I have struggled with the amount of time I take to process my feelings and the feelings in my surrounding environment. That isn’t to say that I dislike this aspect of my personality. In fact, I choose to use my time in this manner. Moreover, I admire the way in which this trait encourages me to analyze myself, others, and entire societal structures and make astute conclusions from those analyzations. However, it’s a process that is both risky and time consuming to cultivate; and as useful as my perception can be, it has had a negative effect on my capacity to thrive in a society that rewards quick decision making, extroverted personalities, and fast-paced productivity. Because of this, my strengths and desires have not correlated with what my elders and supervisors have wanted of me, and thus I’ve felt inadequate, unworthy, and often alone in regards to my ability to fit in and provide for myself and others.
In any case, as much as my traits have made it hard for me to secure external validation, it has also given me a great reward: internal validation. It has allowed me to become accustomed to solitude and my roaming thoughts; which in turn has helped me to be at peace with both the good and bad aspects of my personality. Furthermore, in the process to secure the external, it is common for many to become lost within themselves to the extent that they have a muddled idea of who they are, what they want, and why they are stuck in repetitive long-term cycles. My tendency towards introspection has somewhat shielded me from this familiar experience.
This understanding of the modern human condition has always been in the back of my mind, but it threw itself forward when I watched a YouTuber, comedian, and actor I admire essentially break down with what seemed to be acute anxiety and depression, confessing on camera that they were so used to a hectic life-pace that they couldn’t stand to be alone in their thoughts. I had heard other YouTubers admit that same conclusion before, but I took this particular confession to heart because I envied what this talented, hard-working individual had that I lacked: this seemingly innate ability to enjoy the on-the-go-lifestyle, a trait that allowed them to make a living via their art.
Essentially, however, I realized that I was admiring traits that induced burnt out. Which this particular YouTuber was experiencing. They have lost a lot of weight, are experiencing insomnia, are mentally and physically exhausted, and have been accidentally burning themselves, bumping into things, and falling in their stressed, tired, and overburdened state. And despite the burnout and self-awareness, they still maintain this hectic lifestyle not only because it is a habit they have cultivated, but because it is what is expected of them from their audience and fans.
But also, why should they stop? They have millions of subscribers on various platforms, more money than they can spend, and the positive validation that every creator needs in order to pursue their passion full time. Not only that, but it took them years of rejection, suffering, poverty, and hard work to get to where they are today. So why risk losing all that they have acquired by taking a long break to reflect and meditate, especially when such acts won’t bring them the positive rewards of money, success, validation, and external comfort?[i]
And this begs the question, not only why we are so bad at rewarding the internal, but what are the societal consequences if we continue to reward merely our external efforts? Is it a population of overworked, anxious individuals? Is it a list of leaders and influencers that care more about their appearance, fortune, and hierarchical power over their impact on the world? Is it multibillionaires like Jeff Bezos who underpay and overwork their warehouse employees to the point of chronic, long-term pain (and even death[ii]), forcing them to compare their productivity to that of a machine.[iii] Is it the sheer amount of wasted produce in bodegas and supermarkets despite starvation, homelessness, and inadequate nutrition because the consequence of giving away bad food for free is detrimental to corporate profits? Is it altruistic organizations like the UN that essentially push for the perpetual poverty of particular communities so that their profitable business model can persist?[iv] Is it advancement in technology, medicine, and entertainment at the cost of meaningful enjoyment, pleasure, and connection?
In the end, the question that we should be asking is: in which direction do we want to guide society; and what are we as individuals and as a collective actively doing to guide ourselves in that direction?
But to effectively answer that question requires an understanding of introspection, emotional awareness, human motivation, and long-term consequence. And in a society that tends to discourage such knowledge, we are hard pressed to find this perceptive insight in our leaders, teachers, caregivers and- consequently- in the majority of our community members.
So, reader, I encourage you to ask yourself: in which direction do you want to guide society; and what measures can you implement to push society towards that direction?
[i] (As words are often contextualized, I’d like to clarify that this isn’t a corresponding belief of mine, nor of the unidentified YouTuber in question.)
[ii] Darby, Luke. “After an Amazon Worker Was Crushed to Death by a Forklift, Regulators Helped Cover It Up.” GQ. Nov. 27, 2019. www.gq.com/story/amazon-indiana-hq2-employee-death.
Schuster, Dana. “Amazon workers ‘forced to go back to work’ after fellow employee dies on shift.” New York Post. Oct. 19, 2019. www.nypost.com/2019/10/19/amazon-workers-forced-to-go-back-to-work-after-fellow-employee-dies-on-shift/.
Del Ray, Jason. “Amazon faces fines following the death of a second warehouse worker in as many months.” Vox. Nov. 9, 2019. www.vox.com/2017/11/9/16629412/amazon-warehouse-worker-killed-deaths-osha-fines-penalties.
[iii] Evans, Will. “Ruthless Quotas at Amazon are Maiming Employees.” The Atlantic. Nov. 25, 2019. www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/11/amazon-warehouse-reports-show-worker-injuries/602530/.
Scheiber, Noam. “Inside an Amazon Warehouse, Robots’ Ways Rub Off on Humans.” The New York Times. July 3, 2019 www.nytimes.com/2019/07/03/business/economy/amazon-warehouse-labor-robots.html.