Surreal. Given one word to describe Tech, that is the word I would pick. Perhaps it is the tall brick buildings that cast shadows upon the vast greenspaces littered with scores of students. If not that, it is the Atlanta skyline in the distance, hidden by fog and trees as if it is an afterthought. Wandering the campus makes one feel utterly and completely small.
Yet, somehow, in spite of this seemingly unconquerable landscape, we are united, not isolated, by this shared experience of daunting impossibility — this idea that one day we can learn to find our place in the world through our work and our academic pursuits.
Although studies may give us purpose and direction, there is also a tendency among Tech students to define themselves by the work that brings us all together.
Despite encouragement from Instagram infographics and posters in the bathroom to “take breaks!” and “get a full night of sleep,” I feel the constant need to be doing something.
If I am not a biochemistry student, then I am a runner, a writer or asleep. I am not myself; I am what I do. In the face of such thinking, sometimes I try to listen to those infographics. Maybe if I buy a jade roller or a detox smoothie, I will have some sense of humanity again. However, as soon as I click on an ad for a face mask with the promise of clear and dewy skin, I am reminded that I cannot afford to spend money on various artisanal wellness products for myself.
The truth is, most of us do not have the money or time to achieve the self-care lifestyles promoted online. This forces us to work harder to make more money, so that way maybe one day we can afford to relax.
Maybe one day we can afford to be people and not workers. Maybe one day we can afford the products from the same system that drains us of our personhood.
Suddenly, our purpose becomes equally as cloudy and surreal as the environment we live in.
In fact, the two are inseparable. Our world cultivates this feeling of meaninglessness and presents a solution: work. Although finding meaning and passion in work can guide one through life, it can be damaging and exhausting.
This cycle feels inescapable, and, in a lot of ways, it is. There is no way to live without our environment. Even so, there is freedom in our meaning just as well as there is freedom
in our meaninglessness.
We can engage in our so-called “meaning,” whether that is work or studying, but simply change how we interact with our environment to connect with ourselves and other people
in a more conscious way.
This demands refining one’s purpose to not just the acquisition of knowledge and achievements, but also improving their conditions. To do this, one must look beyond the culture of Instagram self-care workout sets and facials, and instead look at the roots of the self-care movement.
Self-care was historically used as a political act by civil and women’s rights activists as a way to treat one’s wounds outside of the world and systems that harmed them. The simple fact is organizations in power relied on their powerlessness to survive. Therefore, regaining strength through self-healing is inherently rebellious.
However, perhaps what was even more empowering was the weight that self-care had in fostering relationships.
One cannot contribute to the greater community if they themselves are exhausted. Finding enjoyment in the community outside of the cult of productivity is not only radical but uniquely human.
Although work may be a passion and academics may be fulfilling, they are not the human experience. They are simply part of playing a role in our construct of reality that is significant to us in that moment.
One can only achieve true self-care when one accepts that the world is meaningless and that they must find enjoyment.
My cup of coffee in the morning makes my life better. It makes me happy. It is not for anyone else but me. There is no greater goal of productivity or success; it is exactly what it is. There is power in the simplicity and lack of agenda.
A cup of coffee could be anything, but the most important part is that the universe does not care, nor does the world we live in. But the things we care about are important to us. That
is what truly matters.