By Mae Yee
I love taking the public bus. The route and sights along the commute to my office are familiar — the same iconic urban structural artworks and domineering glass-walled office buildings. Amidst the hubbub outside, I create a personal bubble. The perfect setting to fall into a light trance.
I never understood my strange obsession with bus rides until I realized what made bus rides precious: the fact that I could rest, stare into space, and feel entirely okay about it.
Having limited 4G data and slight motion-sickness means that I am not obligated to reply to that message asking me to fill up another when2meet for a project meeting or type out a list of my current tasks for my work supervisor.
Anyways, I was already doing something productive — travelling. For a good and blissful 30 minutes, I am unbothered by any form of online notification or stressful human interaction, a rare and cherished gem in today’s society.
I first heard of the term “Side Hustle” when I came into university. These days, a student focusing on academics and good grades alone is insufficient. Very insufficient.
You need to do a part-time internship then volunteer at church on weekends. After your classes, do some sports. In between your classes, go to the library to work on your case competition. Read a book.
Professors and seniors in school would preach that landing a good job after graduation rests on your internship and work experience. Furthermore, it seems like everyone in university is involved in something outside of being a full-time student.
I fell into the Linkedin rabbit hole where I got constant updates of Friend A’s new start-up, Friend B’s new internship, and a load of “humble” bragging.
Whether it was peer pressure, or my feeling of inadequacy, the stress to do more with my free time tugged at my sleeves. In my first semester, I had five modules and three days of school; too much free time, way too much wasted time.
I took up a part-time internship in the middle of my school term and started to commit to random volunteering projects.
While university timetables are much less demanding and structured than secondary school or junior college timetables, most students take advantage of the flexibility to do something meaningful with their free time.
For me, it became an unhealthy addiction. Despite already having a handful of external commitments, I never felt like it was enough. Every time another good opportunity came by — volunteer work, an essay competition, an online seminar about something remotely related to my course — I signed up on autopilot, driven by an inexplicable fear of missing out on an opportunity to add to my resume.
In the beginning, it felt so good. Every event completed felt like gaining XP in Pokemon.
Over time, it started to feel weird, wrong even, to have free time.
I found comfort in seeing my trusty Google Calendar packed from 8 am to 12 am with colourful blocks of productive stuff; like I was drawn into this evil and alluring cult of productivity demanding I spend my only 2-hour break from classes on something that will fuel my brain.
Productivity was my nicotine. Soon, I was ‘hustling’ 7 days a week, with barely any time to breathe.
Spending time scrolling through Tik Tok became a sign of a lack of discipline; waking up past 9 am became a sign of laziness. As I committed to more, I went from not wanting to waste time to not being able to waste time. Rest time never feels right when you have a thousand undone tasks on your to-do list, and it seems like everyone else around you is ‘hustling’ hard.
I was tired, but the completely warped and screwed-up hustle culture glorified the state I was in. Somehow, being drained from running between school and work, having to eat lunch while on a zoom meeting, sleeping late and waking up early was deserving of praise. I was playing real-life Hunger Games, vying to be the toughest Hustler — for what?
On the days my fuel ran a little lower, I fought to keep up with the facade of productivity… And today, on a short and lonely evening cruise through the CBD, I realised that I haven’t had any guilt-free rest time in a while. The curse of productivity, growth, learning, and whatever synonymous wholesome rubbish had kept me on my toes and rendered rest time a sin.
I am glad I realised soon enough that overcommitment and tiredness are not attractive. In University, you are going to have free time, and lots of pressure to do something meaningful with it.
While you should explore and make full use of your experience in university, do it at your own pace, and don’t let the hustle culture dictate how much time you should spend on external commitments.
I learnt the hard way that blindly committing to things for the sake of ‘hustling’ is a sure-fire way to make you lose sight of what’s important, lose passion for the things you once cared about, and leave you completely jaded.
To the victims of this soul-sucking, endless toxic productivity cycle, treat your downtime seriously… take more bus rides.