Our Toxic Relationship with Leisure
In this Open Column submission, Nabiila Azzahra A. writes about our complicated relationship with leisure and how we all need to eventually get some rest.
Words by Whiteboard Journal
A college student most likely spends their time nestled in a nook of a different coffee shop at least four times a week, eyes glued to their laptop screen. Caffeine consumption seems to be the thing that students worldwide have in common, including in Malang, where I live, where the coffee shop business is gaining unbelievable traction. One thing you’ll notice if you look closer: a good number of these shops open from noon—yes, not early morning when people need a wake-me-up the most—till midnight.
You’ll see us students sipping espresso alone with our assignments when it’s bright outside. But when nighttime hits, even nearing midnight or past it, you’ll find swarms of students sitting in groups with our iced coffees, chatting about our day. Then it hits you: students want to be awake at this hour. This is how we unwind after a long day of classes, work and organizational activities.
“Gue belum tidur dari kemarin, jir,” you hear one person say. Then another quickly retorts, “Yaelah, gue dua hari ini tidur cuma tiga jam.” You look around, slightly worried for your friends, but after awhile you get used to it. It’s becoming a twisted competition. Lack of sleep gets normalized in an environment where everyone works hard toward a successful future they’re afraid they won’t be able to get.
And who can blame us? From seeing young CEOs, public figures going to prestigious universities abroad, and start-up founders, the pressure to become successful by society’s standards is very much real. Money, lots of it; high position; nice car; big house; balanced home and work lives. For some people, fame is even involved. The criteria are soaring to nearly impossible heights some can only hope to reach. But we’re going to try, and sabotage our physical health and mental wellbeing while we’re at it.
The blueprint of success is laid out. We weren’t the ones who designed it—only expected to construct it to life. Everyone must fit into the building of success, even the people who already have their own unique design.
In an environment like this, leisure is a concept that is becoming unfamiliar amongst restless, stressed out young adults in their 20s. Deep eye bags are badges of honor, a sign that one works hard. Insomnia is common. Working overtime is something to be proud of. No 20-year-old who actually cares about their future takes time for themselves, and everyone seems to agree on it.
I could buy a lifetime supply of coffee if I had a coin for every time a friend goes on a tirade about how their packed schedule is killing them, but they have to stick to it. Stopping is a luxury. Rest is frowned upon. Breathe only when you reach the finish line. It all comes down to having to do it fast, or else any hopes of a future is going to slip like grains of sand from our fingers.
Work is becoming a criterion for self-worth. To hold oneself in high regard, one must contribute meaningfully to society. And to do that is to perform a certain function. In return, any sense of self is stripped away when one is unable to work. Who are we, if not laborers? Who am I, if not the work that I do?
That being said, this isn’t to say that ambition and grit are bad, that toil should be disregarded—only that they are not everything there is to life. Roger Scruton wrote in his introduction for “Leisure: The Basis of Culture” by Josef Pieper: “Work is the means of life; leisure is the end. Without the end, work is meaningless—a means to a means to a means… and so on forever.”
He also mentioned how we generally mistake leisure for idleness, and work for creativity. When in actuality, leisure is a stillness that allows you to be immersed in yourself; and work could be agitated idleness disguising itself as productivity. Though to be fair, leisure has had a bad name among those who see it as a privilege and those who regard it as the product of laziness. That warped view is what we need to change. It’s high time college students get the rest we need without any semblance of guilt.
Picture yourself in a world where a dream can wait. A vision you want to transform into reality should get in line behind the mental stability you need to prioritize, and the physical wellness you need to maintain. Stopping is allowed, along with contemplations of which direction you should take. Rest is mandatory. Breathing is the quintessence of your journey in life, without which it would all be for nothing. Make that world your reality.
Dolce far niente: the sweetness of doing nothing—may you all find it, that enjoyment in rest. May your stillness live in the spirit of celebration.
In short: get some rest. Your lifelong plan won’t escape you if you take a breather for a minute or two. You’re still young, and that dream of success is not going anywhere.