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Resisting the Rat Race

A model pretending to be busy (her hair is too groomed for this to be genuine)

Originally published in Redbrick (redbrickpaper.co.uk)

Keeping up with friends, family, exam worries, post-grad employment worries, money worries…it’s a never ending spiral of flustered to-do lists.  I’ve made near twenty train journeys in the past five days in an attempt to meet these basic requirements I’ve set myself, and in the meantime, I’m feeling guilty for not pencilling in a gym session or three.  I’m beginning to feel like roadrunner – although at least his run-around lifestyle involved some savage calorie burning and leg-toning.

When did not multi-tasking in every aspect of your life become a sign of sluggishness?  And when did I start believing that becoming a sprinter in the rat race was the only way to please myself and others?

In a social climate where it seems unemployment is unavoidable, we are on high-risk alert concerning our futures.  It seems important – no, crucial – to have that competitive edge.  We absolutely must get a 2:1.  Scratch that, I want a First for any chance of success.  In between studying, we also need to fit in work experience.  Haven’t you heard?  EVERYONE has a degree nowadays!  We must set ourselves apart.  Oh, and we must, must, must remain a social butterfly.  Don’t want our friends thinking we’re hermits, now, do we? In the words of Barbara Hulanicki, founder of iconic fashion label Biba: ‘If I rest, I rust.’

Perhaps I’m a slave to the media hype.  In a similar way that the media have got middle-aged women worrying about their ever-ticking ‘biological clock’ (whoever came up with that ominous term has a lot to answer for), they have us worrying about our career, social, and body image clocks…and what doesn’t help is a modern, media obsession with successful, tweenage starlets – youngsters who are the fresh-faced ‘next new things’.  God forbid a wannabe actress isn’t successful before they’re twenty five – especially when everyone has one eye on the likes of fourteen year old Hailee Steinfeld (premature star of True Grit), and performers are releasing singles before hitting puberty (whisper it now –Bieber). Wrinkle free, an Oscar on their Mother’s mantelpiece and still deciding what to choose as their A-Level options – a frustrating case of lamb dressed as mutton.  If we are seen as over-the-hill at thirty-something, it’s a little wonder we’re rushed off our feet trying to succeed now.

It’s hard to tell if this social trend of one-upmanship will ever reverse – as anyone who fills their timetables chock-a-block in an attempt to be as productive as possible knows, once you start worrying about how much you’re fitting in to your day, it’s hard to stop.  But perhaps recognizing the signs of stressful over scheduling will help us look after ourselves.  Constantly have a cold you can’t shake?  Pounding heart when you consider how much exam revision you’re planning to squeeze in this term?  Don’t feel guilty if you take a day off for – I can barely say it – ‘me time’.  It’s probably better for you than a gym session anyway.

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