Je. Ne. Sais. Pas.
The stress of idling versus that of a glorified hustle life. Because are you really living your twenties without constant eye bags?
A slow romantic jazz is blaring from my speakers as I write, huddled in a hoodie, occasionally warming myself with a hot cup of tea.
Here we are, neck-deep in orange shades and brown hues, spices and scarves while I still have trouble coming to terms with the fact that it is already, mid autumn.
Life is trickling back to normal, bit by bit. Terms are starting, new jobs beginning.
Gone is the relaxed sunny atmosphere of summer, those days of idling and innocent daydreaming. Here comes the longer nights, chilly winds and busy schedules. It would seem that time has once again, slipped through my fingers.
Time. A luxury, a transient possession. Our twenties are laden with the challenge of 'achievements'; our lives revolve around time efficiently used in pursuit of that greater 'success'. But without that endless pursuit, who are we?
The Stress of Idling
I remember a park from my childhood : across what seemed like a vast green expanse, a strong gust of wind blew, lifting our kites high up into the sky. The strained strings brought about a thrill as the kite soared, higher and higher. Free.
Seriously? Stress? Idling? You're stressed that you have FREE TIME?
Oh, the audacity.
It is a competitive world of constant change, one exacerbated by the pervasion of social media into our daily lives. But waking up to Instagram feeds of endless causes and new start-ups constantly hammer at my self-worth. Everyday, I question what my life purpose is. It is easy to dismiss comparison, to say that everyone has their unique timeline to which they can achieve whatever calling in accordance to their own time. But the undeniable reality is that inevitable comparison arises from being constantly surrounded by societal standards of what one should be doing at a given time; an image of how one should be living life at the present moment.
To be stuck in a limbo across this seemingly endless span of time *ahem* (the dramatic twenties) with no clear purpose made me feel :
Like absolute poop. (Got to keep this PG)
Like I was the only one who had no idea what I was going to do with my life while everyone else seemed to have the route all planned out.
During a time when I was the least confident, I felt the need to build my self-worth through learning and honing a few skills. It was the achievements that those skills wrought that made me feel relevant, like someone worth talking to. Ever since then, life has been an endless cycle of skill-honing, achieving (yay confidence!), skill-irrelevance (oh god, who am I) and picking myself up again. Basically, my identity became one measured in terms of productivity and achievements.
Our minds have trained us to see societal expectations and images shared on media as a mirror of how our life SHOULD look like. Truth is, most people have no clear idea of what they actually want to do, either. Media simply captures the best moments of a situation, completely hiding the ugly uncertainties that lie beneath. So really, perhaps I have merely been aspiring to the 'dream' image that everyone wants, without anyone actually living it.
So, throw away that facade and you'll realise: you are enough. More than enough.
Furthermore, to NOT conform to that specific 'image' of life, you are unique.
'You look really tired.' My heart swelled with pride every time I heard that comment. Finally, I thought. I was working hard enough amidst a cohort of students who seemingly required no sleep at all.
The glorified hustle life. Perhaps the most unhealthy way of measuring hard work.
The twenties is for endless hustling, the thirties for building families and careers, the list goes on until you would one day retire and be able to enjoy life the way you could never before.
Except, as a friend pointed out, you would probably have knee or back problems, not be able to travel or eat as much as you would in your prime, and would likely just enjoy watching the passing of time from an armchair. Ouch.
Point is, I grew up with the notion that life should or could only be enjoyed in the later stages of life. But if the pandemic (which gave me by far, way too much time to think) thought me anything, it was to seize time now. To live every present moment to the fullest. For why can life not being enjoyed while pursuing that passion project ? Why can relationships not be deepened, friendships rekindled amidst crazy whirlwinds of work or school deadlines ?
The hustle always starts with youthful passion and ambition. Slowly, reality hacks away at idealistic views, drowning me in deadlines, suffocating me with facts. In that dark whirlpool of work, the worst I find, is when I forget how to dream. I forget my purpose, I forget my hobbies. My days become structured to early mornings, banana-and-peanut-butter oats, work, dinner, sleep, repeat. I forget to stop and stare at the changing colours of the world, the calls of nature. The little pockets in the morning for a quiet coffee, a curiosity for daily happenings. To step away from that hustle and wonder, what was left of my soul. To wander the streets on a random weekend, and be enveloped in a surprising wave of loneliness for the absence of relations.
Post-idling stress, when one is suddenly overwhelmed with fatigue from heavy workloads, sometimes endless socials in attempts to impress, I sometimes find myself overcome with an almost palpable sense of nostalgia for the freedom before. (In other words, the grass is always greener.) In the face of the endless hustle, I find myself forgetting what actually makes life worth living :
The little moments. The conversations over coffee. The time spent with loved ones. The relationships that enrich life. The hobbies that make up my identity.
But the most neglected of all, self-care: both mentally and physically. I used to be so proud when I had eye bags under my eyes because I could NOT. For the life of me, stay up past 3am without endless yawning and staring blankly at my screen through a haze of weary tears. And yet other people powered through the night, emerging proudly fatigued in the dawn, announcing how many all-nighters they have pulled. Gulp.
Sleep deprivation not only hinders productivity, brings about mood swings, shortens lifespans (I intend to live a long one), and facilitates weight gain (I would love to have my waistline, thank you.) And it most definitely makes situations look worse than they actually are. (Take care of your health first, people!)
I have no answers whatsoever. For life will continue to be quite the balancing act: this constant negotiation between pursuing ambition, and maximising time.
But perhaps time is not meant to be structured at all. Perhaps all that it asks for is to be embraced for what and how it is. And eventually, the rest will fall into place.