‘You’ve Earned It’ — In Defense of Laziness

Natalie Battaglia | Loyola University ChicagoStudents study in the Information Commons (IC) on Loyola's Lake Shore Campus during Finals Week, May 4, 2016.

Across Loyola’s campus, as final exams came to a close and students began packing for their winter vacations, I heard students support one another, saying, “Take a break. You’ve earned it!” or “You deserve some rest!” Closing my eyes, it wouldn’t have been difficult to imagine these caffeinated exchanges instead being shared between overworked professionals, used to trading hours in bed for hours on company time.

Perhaps influenced by America’s productivity-obsessed culture, students and burnt-out professionals alike have learned to frame rest and self-care as something “earned” by personal, academic or professional accomplishments — only deserved after checking off the final task on a to-do list.

Rest and relaxation, however, shouldn’t be seen as a reward only after accomplishing the day’s work but as fundamental to a healthy lifestyle, independent of one’s productivity.

The consequences of this culture are everywhere. A 2015 Atlantic article brought this obsession to light by describing the proliferation of smartphone applications designed to help the busy stay efficient — each carrying loaded names such as “Self-Control” or “Freedom.”

Especially now, with the budding of new economies, we must be critical of a culture that “celebrates” working oneself to death. In 2016, when Chicago Lyft driver, Mary Joe Clarence Cabarle, was going into labor while driving, she famously picked up another ride before driving herself to the hospital, earning herself the (since removed) praise of Lyft on the company’s blog. The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino speculated in her widely-read 2017 opinion piece that Mary continued accepting riders because, “the gig economy has further normalized the circumstances in which earning an extra eleven dollars can feel more important than seeking out the urgent medical care that these quasi-employers do not sponsor.”

As college students, we experience this productivity-obsessed culture acutely. It’s not uncommon for us to be teased by our parents or professors for apparent laziness (that is, socializing rather than hitting the books) despite a rigorous academic schedule and challenging curricular and extracurricular demands. Neither are we strangers to the “all-nighter” — the sacrificing of a full night’s sleep usually to study a few extra hours in preparation for an exam — and such behavior is accommodated by the Information Commons’ extensive schedule.

Psychology Today cites a 2013 American College Health Association survey in which, “57% of [college] women and 40% of [college] men reported experiencing episodes of ‘overwhelming anxiety’ in the past year, and 33% of [college] women and 27% of [college] men reported a period in the last year of feeling so depressed it was difficult to function.” Psychologists believe the pressures to succeed students experience may be the cause of this unprecedented rise in levels of anxiety and depression that can lead to destructive behaviors during students’ college years, including substance abuse and suicide.

This productivity obsession is so powerful and pervasive it has changed the language we use to describe rest, both on campus and off — a linguistic economy based on allowances.

Well-intentioned messages such as “Take a break. You’ve earned it!” and “You deserve some rest!” reinforce the pseudo-dependent relationship between rest and success. Yes, to tell someone they deserve rest after accomplishing some task is a gentle reminder for them not to work too hard. But it’s also to imply, intentionally or not, that they wouldn’t have deserved rest had they not accomplished said task. As a consequence, one can be made to feel guilty for choosing to mind their health rather than study a few extra hours, feeling they don’t deserve to feel well-rested until they’ve made their hay, so to speak.

This language can encourage a university culture in which all-nighters, caffeine dependencies and darker behavioral trends are common — all in the name of success, to escape that dreaded word: lazy.

Nearing finals week of the fall 2017 semester, an editorial by The PHOENIX made the relevant case that students shouldn’t have to sacrifice their health for better grades. The editorial board — of which I’m a member — wrote, “Rest is just as important as succeeding at work or school. Rest shouldn’t just be a reward or an unattainable luxury, it’s an important part of mental health and well-being.”

I would go a step further. Rest isn’t just as important as success. Health and well-being always take priority over achievement — academic or otherwise — especially since something as serious as life is at stake.

If a student believes their academic success is just as important as their health, they might consider jeopardizing their health in times when they must choose between caring for themselves and maintaining their GPA. Even with the hope that they might be able to recuperate after their work is done, such behavior could develop into lifelong habits in which they regularly place their well-being at stake in the name of professional achievement, or, worse, believe such behavior is laudable.

Laziness is no easy thing to defend, especially at a student-run newspaper. But rather than laziness, I am really defending the restorative behaviors, time spent with loved ones and the more sympathetic treatment of oneself often wrongly stigmatized by the word “lazy.”

When someone, student or not, must decide between health and education, I would like to stand on the side of good health.

As often-exhausted students, instead of asking ourselves if we can afford rest, I encourage us instead to ask ourselves if we can afford not to.

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