What if I told you that my highest midterm exam grade in college was earned while my body was at its lowest point during that semester?
I wrote practice essays from dusk to dawn to prepare for my American Public Policy midterm exam. My fingers were bandaged from textbook paper cuts, and Mike and Ikes were my only sources of nutrition. This lack of rest and inadequate nourishment triggered a fever of 103 on the day of the exam; droplets of sweat dripped over my keyboard, my eyesight clouded, and I struggled to breathe.
In my position, a reasonable person would have emailed their professor to reschedule their exam. Instead, I opened my laptop and typed up ten essay questions. I typed until I could hardly feel my fingers, ignoring the aches and chills coursing through my body. With four minutes to spare, I was able to finish. After that, I popped two Tylenol tablets and drank a whole bottle of cool blue Gatorade. I then got right to work on my homework for my theology class the next day.
The narrative of a college student defying her limits and working tirelessly to accomplish her goals would be celebrated. But what if I told you that this narrative isn’t worthy of celebration?
With that said, let’s get to the meat of the matter: Working harder does not equate to working better.
That’s hard to hear in a time where crammed schedules, restless nights, and little to no breaks are popularized. In a rise and grind culture notorious for making work the star of the show, it’s challenging to get rid of the notion that success entails straining ourselves to our limits. The success of our work is measured not by the work’s outcomes, but by how much sleep we missed or how many meals we skipped as a result. We work until we are tired and hungry and when we are tired and hungry, we continue to work.
That is simply a standard that we must abandon for the welfare of our current generation and future generations to come.
Take a look at Iceland’s 4-day work week, which was implemented from 2015 to 2019 by the national government to examine the labor system’s successes and failures. When 40-hour workweeks were replaced with approximately 35-36-hour workweeks, productivity and employee morale skyrocketed. The effectiveness of decreased work weeks compelled unions to reconsider what constitutes acceptable working conditions, leading to a shift in Iceland’s perspective on the work-life dynamic. The success of the 4-day workweek was attributable to how workers spent their time during their cut hours, not necessarily the cut hours themselves. Workers reported using their days off to take care of personal affairs and their wellbeing; from spending time with loved ones to catching up on sleep, workers had more time to replenish their batteries before returning to work. Workers were better able to execute their duties at work when their batteries were recharged.
Though it is doubtful that we will be able to replicate Iceland’s 4-day work week in our lives, we can come to understand a valuable truth from their experience: When we take the time to properly and thoroughly care for ourselves, we are better equipped to complete the responsibilities that lie ahead.
There’s a tendency to feel an immense amount of guilt when separating time for self-care rather than pouring all our time into work; it seems as if productivity is low when we are productive towards ourselves. Yet studies have shown that workers do better work when they are in good mental and physical health; you’re far more likely to perform well on an exam or serve customers if you’re well-rested, well-fed, and emotionally healthy. You can properly take care of yourself and do good work- you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. This won’t be simple at first, and it may take some time to adjust to a lifestyle that balances our personal needs with the needs of our work. This, I assure you, is well worth your time.
Reading the above statement may tempt you to stream the newest episode of Love Island or throw on a face mask; all power to you if that’s your idea of replenishment, which is an idea that we have accustomed to believe at the pinnacle of a freshly formed self-care culture. But, as much as we don’t want to admit it, the self-care we need isn’t always found on our streaming services or on our credit cards.
Now it’s time for us to romanticize the tasks that we must do in order to stay alive: we must first realize the foundations of self-care before moving on to the more leisurely aspects. We may take obtaining a full 8 hours of sleep or eating a nutritious meal for granted, but there is a reason why medical professionals, educators, and everyone in between promote these aspects of self-care.
It’s a common misunderstanding that the basics are dull, uninteresting, and overdone. However, the most fundamental aspects of our self-care rituals can be the most rewarding; your self-care regimen is entirely up to you, and as long as you meet the fundamental benchmarks, you’re good to go. These benchmarks might vary from person to person, which is why it’s crucial to figure out what your fundamentals are with the help of a care team that understands what good care looks like. Don’t simply accept social media and the internet’s advice; talk to your doctor, therapist, or anybody else in your life who can help you.
There’s beauty in waking up in the morning after a refreshing night of sleep, eating a meal full of nutrients, and hearing the birds sing while going for a walk to improve fitness. There’s beauty in caring for yourself, and this beauty can shape the way you pour into your work.
As we return to school and our workplaces, keep in mind that your greatest work comes through when you are at your best and you work better when you do everything in your power to be your best self. Whatever it entails, seek within yourself as you work toward your goals; your future self will thank you.