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The Glamourization of Exhaustion

June 28, 2018

“Sleep is for the weak.”

“You snooze, you lose.”

“You have plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.”


Any of these sound familiar? Thanks to societal pressures on women, we always need to be more efficient, to be more educated, and to look good while doing it. When achieving this image of being the “perfect at everything” woman, rest often takes a back seat.


I  recently attended The Art of Leadership of Women Conference in Vancouver. The environment was radiating with enthusiasm, empowerment, and excitement. Everyone there was eager to learn something new about themselves and contribute to the discussions of leadership, productivity, and career-development. The first speaker that really resonated with me was Tiffany Dufu, a catalyst-at-large in the world of women’s leadership. She is also the author of Drop the Ball, a memoir and manifesto that shows women how to cultivate the single skill they really need in order to thrive: the ability to let go. In the start of one of her workshops, she makes the group of women write down all of the things they wanted to complete over the span of a 24-hour day. This reflective activity made the women realize that,


“We can’t get it all done” and that, “Some things simply won’t get done and we have to drop the ball.”


Tiffany reassured that it’s okay and this is not an act of failure, but an act of actively choosing what requires your best use with the least amount of effort. At the end of every single exercise, she realized that ‘sleep’ was never on anyone’s to-do list. If I were to participate in this activity myself, I too would be guilty of not putting a full 8-hour cycle of sleep down. But why is that?




We live in a world that celebrates exerting oneself to the brink of physical exhaustion over relaxation and recuperation. Idolizing non-stop hard work and sleepless nights of due diligence over mental, physical, and emotional well-being. What is sleep when at the very core of North-American values are,


“If there’s a will, there’s a way.”


We shamelessly bond with fellow peers and colleagues over our caffeine addictions and compete over who had the least amount of sleep.


This cultural ideology forces institutions to normalize the glamourization of exhaustion. For instance, universities all around North America have their libraries open for students 24/7. When I went on my exchange to the University of Amsterdam in Europe, I was shocked to find out the whole campus closes at 6pm every weekday and are closed all day during the weekends. When I spoke with my local Dutch friends, they just looked at me and said,


“Weekends are for relaxing and getting ready for the week ahead.”


In theory yes they are but, if I were to say that I would do nothing and relax on my weekends to a fellow peer in Vancouver, they would probably plague me with guilt or shame for not being productive. That, or remind me how busy their schedules are and make me feel and look inferior. What we need to realize is that sleep and rest is productive. Nonchalantly laughing about skipping a meal or two and staying up all night inorder to get a task done shouldn’t be prized.


Which brings me to the next speaker from The Art of Leadership of Women’s Conference that touched my heart, mind, and soul. Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post made her whole presentation around the need for sleep. Contrary to popular belief, she says she did not truly become successful until she stopped overworking herself. One thing that jolted me into reality was when she asked the audience,


“Why do we take better care of our smartphones than ourselves?”


Funny enough, throughout the entire conference I was terribly anxious since I only had about 12% left on my phone. We are always conscious of the battery left in our phones, but we never monitor ourselves constantly in the same way. The moment our phones are dying, we run to the nearest charging shrine. When we are running low and need to recharge, we just keep on going until we start to crash like an iPhone 5’s battery life. One moment we think we are fine and going strong, the next we completely shut down out of the blue when we need to perform the most.


Through this comparison, I was shocked to see how much we value the virtue of over-exertion. Capitalist imperatives to work until we collapse get to the best of us, even Arianna Huffington. It is instilled that social status is earned when you drop and earn as much money as possible - despite what you need to do to get there. It’s not unusual to see students and professionals popping adderall like tic tacs to maximize performance, giving them the competitive edge.  


At one point, my life was comprised of anti-depressants and stimulants. I had to be more efficient, I had to be more educated, and I had to look good while doing it. Overextending myself with extra-curricular activities, a full-time course load, and working in order to build my résumé is all too relatable for the everyday millennial. I was getting less sleep than my predecessors, and worrying more than ever about financial, social, and academic pressures. We need to find and share resources for those with disabilities, mental health issues, anxiety or chronic conditions to promote a healthier balance of work, social events and relaxation time. We need to advocate for those who work so hard day-in and day-out to support their loved ones.  The glamorization of exhaustion is not cool or pretty and we owe it to ourselves to find healthier alternatives to balance our lives.


Anyways, I’m going to bed and you should too. Goodnight, sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite.


- Till next time, you'll be hearing from Andrea again


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