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September 7, 2020

America’s Diagnosis: Burnout.

Well, I didn’t intend to write this during a global pandemic, but here we are.

What’s going on in the world is shedding light on what we are lacking in America. We are a culture that strives to be the best even if we can’t show for it. At times, we can act like peacocks who showcase our bright, beautiful feathers to those around us. As we show forth our fancy feathers, we strive to win the prize of admiration. But at what cost? 

Our society doesn’t put health and wellness at the top of the pedestal. Our culture in America is work hard—working hard without breaks, or eating your lunch at your desk. I’ve personally been mocked or ridiculed for actually taking my designated lunch time outside of the office. I mean, how dare I not sit at my desk and eat while I work? Is productivity that much better without breaks? Or are we inadvertently shooting ourselves in the foot?

Sometimes less is more, in the sense that we need to allow the breaks, because it boosts energy and creativity to then do better work. Not taking vacation days or coming to work sick even if you feel shitty is not helpful. We’ve all at some point experienced saying, “It’s just a cold. I’m fine.

Taking care of ourselves is seen as a weakness in the American workforce culture.

We find ourselves feeling guilty for taking days off for any rhyme or reason. Why would I take the day off if I’m not sick? Well, ever hear of a mental health day? We have to hide the fact that sometimes we just need a day off. We have to pretend we’re sick or that something personal happened. Our culture doesn’t emphasize the importance of taking your vacations, taking a few days off if you have the PTO or means to do so. There’s a judgement that we are either lazy or not a hard worker. Now what does that do to the psyche of America over decades of this? It’s like a shaken up soda bottle with no escape. Eventually, that bottle is going to explode.

In other parts of the world, like Europe, taking a holiday is not stigmatised. It’s seen as a given, “Yes, I’ve worked hard throughout the year, I will take time for myself.” In America? It’s stigmatized to take time. We have to push through, because we have to hit that quota, or it’s just unfathomable to take a little vacation. I personally knew someone at one of my previous jobs, who got to the maximum of her PTO days, which was about 300. She did not take one single day off and she worked late after hours. Now that was admirable in my office. She’s a hard worker, which I don’t doubt she was, but I thought it was sad. I didn’t know what was going on in her personal life, but why is that okay? Why is it acceptable to work that hard? And for what? For a job that could fire you in a split second if they felt like it and replace you. Is that something to be proud of?

A work culture that prides itself on hard work, and seeing who can do it the longest without breaks or time off, breeds workers who eventually use their job as their sole identity. It leads to unhappiness and depression, because what happens if that job is taken from them? They have nothing.

Corporations were forced to use remote options for employees due to COVID-19 and perhaps this will alleviate stress for some people when it comes to work travel time. I think corporations have realised that a lot of work can be done from home. And for the employees, the bonus is they are able to be home more with their family and loved ones.

Remote work prior to COVID-19 was not widely accepted in our culture. But hopefully in time, this can prove that it is not only more efficient in some ways, but less costly for the employer.

America is burning out. It’s been burnt out. We just weren’t aware of it. And it took a global pandemic for us Americans to be slapped in the face and to get our priorities in order. To ask ourselves what truly matters. What truly matters to you? If you knew your last day might be tomorrow, because it potentially can be, what matters? Is it your job? Is it working yourself like a dog or is it spending time with your family and loved ones?

I’ve found that during this time I’ve become closer with my best friend than I ever have in the decade we’ve known each other. I’ve become closer with my family members. For me, at least, something like this gives me perspective. It shocks me to my core to pause for a moment and remind myself what is important.

This has been long overdue. I know and understand that it’s a message a lot of Americans don’t want to hear. COVID-19 has greatly affected this country in a negative way, there’s no doubt about that. But with forced quarantines and lockdowns, I think we’ve finally come out of autopilot. We’ve paused and seen what has been in front of our eyes this entire time; Americans need to take better care of themselves. We need a better work and life balance. Our work culture needs to change and I think history is in the making. We are witnessing a new shift.

We unfortunately need this. We will make it, I’m confident in that. We can’t appreciate the things we have and the good times we are so blessed to have without struggles. It’s a balance. It’s not pleasant nor is it easy. But that’s life, right?

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