“Do you need me to tranquillize you, because I will,” said a well-meaning friend of mine, as a reply to a tweet I posted on how I’d been up for more than 48 hours. Nothing drastic about it tbh, until you realize you’ve actually been running on 26-minute naps for every 48 hours you’ve been up for — this one being fifth consecutive time you’ve done it in two weeks. Bursts are common near the finish line, sure, but I wasn’t anywhere near mine.
I’ve likened my workload to the heads of a hydra: that for every task done, two or three more tasks take its place. For the first months of 2019, I was hustling my ass off. They told me: the reward for good work is more work. So when it’s already 11 p.m. and I’m just having my first meal of the day, despite being up since God knows when, I must be doing a great job, right?
We soldier on. We always say things, but we get the work done.
I work in publishing and I’m a freelance designer on the side. These are fields where jobs are hard to come by, and I recognize that I’m lucky to just even have work — and really, I am grateful — but getting a job here means a lot more than just a paycheck: it’s one big circle, anything you do or don’t will follow you for the rest of your life. Being the people pleaser that I am, I would do revisions immediately no matter what time you ask for them. You can call me at ungodly hours and I’ll be sure to pick it up. You’re not gonna use this thing I spent hours on? Uh, sure. In times like these, it feels like gratitude won’t cut it. When you’re overworked at the expense of others and your well-being, I don’t think anything does.
But we soldier on. We always say things, but we get the work done.
I was always told that I should be doing something productive all the time. I never had summers off. I was in all sorts of classes: sports, arts, academic ones. And when I could, I started applying for internships. Even on vacation days, I worked remotely. Rest for me was an Angkas ride between meetings. Did these things make me a better person? A resounding yes. But did it help me, in any capacity, to take care of myself better? Well, I did once break down in a cubicle in Shangri-La Plaza, so maybe not. Did I have this consistent barrage of exhaustion coming? Now, here’s the thing.
In a world where everything will cost you something, you really don’t get a choice: you work more hours, look for additional work, or both. You can stop and rest, but the bills will just keep coming.
The term biting off more than one can chew comes to mind. I did accept all of these knowing full well what I’m capable of: but that’s how just the world works — the capitalism of it all. Costs are at an all-time high, utilities are being treated as luxuries instead of necessities. We waste away in traffic. You can opt for more convenient ways sure, but be ready to pay for it. We’re not even talking about high-speed monorails or limo services here — convenience is a GrabCar for a destination five kilometers away, costing you day’s worth of pay. In a world where everything will cost you something, you really don’t get a choice: you work more hours, look for additional work, or both. You can stop and rest, but the bills will just keep coming.
The last batch of my projects ended two weeks ago. I still have work, but not as much and not as grueling. I’m proud of the previous cycle, it was hard work and I have the scars (eye bags and packs of instant coffee count, right?) to prove it. That’s not to say that, I’m in any hurry to do it again. The next round in the cycle of overwork is looming in the distant horizon. We always say things, but we’ll get the work done. We bounce back, and we do our best to get ready for the next one.
Maybe if I knew earlier that everything you do in this capitalist world will always be in the favor of those in power, I would’ve been easier on myself. That at the end of the day, the victory of finishing a task comes as fast as it goes — that work is just work, no matter how big or small a pile it is. To be proud of the work you’ve done and to acknowledge what it cost you to get there, I believe, aren’t mutually exclusive. As are gratitude for a job and burnout because of the very same thing. All these things, to feel these things, are valid. In a world where there’s a price for everything, how can it not be?
One day, we’ll fix the system. Change it, after we bring it crashing down. We won’t need to work more out of necessity, that everyone’s paychecks are actually decent — that one job is enough to cover what we have to spend day to day, and things like commuting and bank transactions won’t add to the slump.
And when that day comes, we won’t be tired — we’ll soldier on.