The Problem with Toxic Productivity


Picture this. It’s late. You’re under your covers, perusing the endless depths of the internet. Switching from YouTube, to Instagram, to TikTok, then back to Instagram, then back to YouTube again, trying to fill the unquenchable abyss of your boredom. The bluish hue of your phone screen illuminates your face as you stumble upon the following YouTube channel- 


With flashy titles all related to crypto and business management, GaryVee’s page seems like a meeting ground for those who could not detect the satire in The Wolf of Wall Street. You click on some of his videos, only to be bombarded with such unintelligible advice as “If you put your head down and just work for the next ten years, no glamour, no new cars, suitcase, jewelry, event, no Coachella, no fun, no new sneakers, like work, and you will have it. And everytime you care about one of the things I just mentioned, it will slow down your process of having it.” This advice propagates the notion that the only way to be successful is to be deprived of any rest or happiness. It’s not just GaryVee who I have a problem with. This “motivational” speech reflects larger issues of today’s society: the “hustle” lifestyle and toxic productivity, and the indubitable misery they create.


Like cicadas in July, the exponentially rising amount of rich CEOs getting on the Internet to tell the masses they could be just like them is inescapable, and just as annoying. Sitting on their ivory towers, they call down to us,` “You take naps? Rich people don’t take naps. They take Adderall. The hustle never stops.” In an Insider article, GaryVee says that he doesn’t eat at day, only at night, so he can run his multimillion-dollar company. In another video, he doubles down on the idea you should never stop working, citing the fact that for eight whole years, he never did anything for fun. Undoubtedly, these middle-aged entrepreneurs know more about life than I do. Perhaps I’m just naive, but this notion that you should put all the joys of life on the back burner to “hustle” or “grind” is borderline dystopian. You shouldn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn, run four marathons by noon, and invest in six businesses by nightfall to have a life worth living. Instagram “entrepreneurs” will go online to narrowly depict one area of their lives: the big houses, the model girlfriends, the weekend trips to Cabo- and act like that arena of wealth is attainable if you just follow their advice.


I think they’re liars.


Millionaires and billionaires love to masquerade as self-made, all-American hustlers- perfect paintings of the American dream. What they won’t tell you is the generational wealth that underlies many of their net worths, like GaryVee’s family’s multi-million dollar wine business, or Elon Musk’s family’s emerald mine in Zambia. The reality is, screaming at yourself in the mirror won’t make you the CEO of a multimillion-dollar company, just like how constantly working won’t make you any happier. Commercialized self-help and social media breed a toxic mindset that we must constantly be more productive than everyone else when everyone else is only portraying the productive parts of their lives. It’s an endless paradox of misery. But how do we overcome it?


I have no idea. In truth, I fall victim to it too. At the beginning of the pandemic, every TikTok video, every Instagram post, every Snapchat story, felt like a bombardment of productivity- productivity that I was lacking. Scrolling from video to video, it seemed as though everyone had their lives perfectly together, waking up at 6 a.m. on the spot to do Chloe Ting workouts and make whipped coffee. On an average day, I would hobble out of bed at 4 p.m., change my sweats, and promptly get back into bed. It seemed as though everyone had utilized this time to improve and like everyone had an endless pool of energy and jubilance at their disposition. I began to think, maybe I’m defective. Why can’t I work as hard as everyone else? What’s wrong with me?


Eventually, I came to an epiphany. There is an inherent heir of dishonesty tied to toxic productivity. People will only post their intricate study guides, boast of their perfect 4.0, and mention the 24 clubs they run. No one will tell you about the Saturday they spent laying on their bathroom floor watching reruns of Jeopardy


It’s so easy to see the productivity of your peers and be discouraged. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. Nobody is perfect, and you don’t have to expect yourself to be. You don’t have to be in 40 clubs, you don’t have to start 3 nonprofits, you don’t have to stay up until sunrise studying. You are human, and that is enough. Maximal self-optimization is not a sustainable lifestyle. It’s okay to take a day off. It’s okay to put your mental health first.


You don’t have to be productive and improving all the time. 


Having healthy habits and attempting to better yourself are crucial parts of life. Nevertheless, the path to self-improvement isn’t linear. It isn’t a one-way bus trip. There are stops where you get off and get back on, and many sudden halts announced by an incomprehensible, but deafeningly loud man on a loudspeaker. 


Commercialized self-help, perfect students, Instagram entrepreneur lifestyles- it’s all an illusion. It’s important to work hard, but equally important to listen to your body. Breaking through the shackles of toxic productivity and hustle culture is a difficult task, but one of grave importance. 


As the school year comes to an end, I want to remind you; you got through it, and I’m proud of you.