In college, my Humanities professor made it very clear he would not check his email after 10 p.m. or before 8 a.m. That time is for his leisure.
He also said my generation (I’m an elder Gen Z) would struggle with getting back our time. I scoffed at that thought – if I have time to waste, then I am not working hard enough. This is how I was able to graduate in three years with a major, minor and Honors College degree.
Now I get it.
Not because I have dedicated myself to a full-time job, part-time job and part-time volunteer position, but because not working on anything triggers my anxiety.
I’m writing this column right now, at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, because I have all of my articles for Thursday’s paper completed and half of my tasks for Friday’s paper completed, and despite being ahead this week, I am triggered at the thought of not producing anything.
Being a full-time journalist is a weird job. I usually spend about seven hours of my day in the office, and during this time I write stories, manage the social media pages and keep tabs on the collective email. The police scanner also sits on my desk.
When my articles are complete for the next day’s paper, I am not always capable of immediately starting on tasks for the next next day’s paper – sometimes these articles follow meetings that are at a set time in the evening. So I have time in the office I need to fill.
I do this by consuming other kinds of journalism. I read The Shelby County Post, The Addison Times, The Indianapolis Star, The Associated Press News, and all other kinds of publications.
And while this does contribute to my capabilities as a reporter by providing me with examples of different writing, reporting or investigating techniques, sometimes it just feels like I’m not working.
This is the problem I’m trying to avoid by writing this column. I don’t want to seem like I’m not working because I’m not typing. I don’t want to seem like I’m goofing off because I have Facebook up looking for topics to write about. But this is the nature of my career. There is a sort of waiting for news to happen.
The anxiety extends beyond my journalism career, too. I am a part-time cashier at Target on the weekends. This means I work seven days a week, and I don’t often get a day off or adequate time to rest unless I request off a Saturday more than two weeks in advance.
If management doesn’t schedule me on a Saturday or Sunday without me requesting, I have a pressing urge to pick up a shift, even if it’s just a 4-hour shift cleaning carts. I know I should take a day to rest because I’m really freaking tired all the time, but it feels like I am wasting my day if I’m not being productive.
If I don’t pick up a shift, I combat this unproductive-induced anxiety by making plans with my friends or family on those days, but even then I’m still not resting because I have made plans that require I put down my video games or my laptop, go out and exert myself.
It’s a vicious circle really – I’m either not relaxing or I’m too anxious to relax. All because I’m not being productive.
Now, I’m not complaining about any of these positions. I know if I wanted a day off then my editor would let me take one without any problems.
I just think this anxiety about not being productive is an interesting topic to explore, and I’m curious to see if my fellow Gen Z kids also experience this, because I had a couple friends in college who also felt this way. I think it’s the way we were raised.
From what I’ve heard about generations older than us, leisure time was considered important. Taking a couple hours to read a book or do a puzzle was not wasting time, it was enjoying yourself and it was considered important to mental health, even if it wasn’t contributing toward anything.
It seems like now, everything I do has to have an end goal, and doing things just to enjoy them is wasting time – and I should feel ashamed for wasting time.
Too often, I don’t do things just to enjoy them. I’ve started combating this idea with my own gymnastics capabilities: I started embracing this idea that I don’t need to advance anymore. I don’t compete, I don’t have a team, and I’ve lost more than half of my tumbling skills to a concussion-related mental block.
Not intending to advance allows me the ability to not stress out about whether or not I’ll get over my mental block on back tumbling at practice anymore. I just train those skills with mats and if I do one, that’s great, but I’m not upset if I don’t. I have no one to impress and no end goal with this anymore, so I can just enjoy the fun of chucking myself around.
I’d like to get this notion into other areas of my life. I’m two days ahead on articles at work right now, so it’s OK if I’m only consuming other journalism at this point (and if you have a story you’d like me to write, hit me up at email@example.com).
I don’t need to write a column just to feel productive.