In a society that recognizes the Sharmaji ka ladka joke a little too well, kids often grow up associating their value with productivity. Therefore, amidst an unhealthy amount of black coffee cups and practically no social life, the infamous hustle culture is born.
The issue with hustle culture in India lies in the glorification of burnout. A standard is created wherein the worse one’s mental health due to working hard, the more worthy they are. Bad mental health is often rewarded and even boasted about.
“My son studies so much, he just got an hour of sleep in the last 2 days.”
“My daughter works so hard; she barely gets time to eat.”
“My children don’t waste time with friends. The moment they come home from school, they start studying and don’t move until sleep time.”
Children are taught from a very young age that it is normal, and rather expected, for them to prioritize results over mental health. They are compared to their peers and taught to admire those who are at a higher rank than them in every field- academics, sports, and even arts. This takes away the love for knowledge and transforms it into a thirst for being ‘good enough.’
Hence, between cut-off lists, the children lose their curiosity and develop imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome sneaks up after a long day of work, as one lies in their bed and wishes that they would have worked a little more. It masks itself as perfectionism and overachieving, but festers in the brain and keeps calling the host a liar- a liar who fakes their love for their job and is not that good at it. Even though to the outsider it may seem absurd that the nerd from whom you ask for notes or your colleague who does overtime a little too often may be invalidating their success, but it does not seem far-fetched that they may have been the product of an excessively competitive environment that did constantly invalidate their success.
It is essential for parents to not compare their kids or punish them if their results don’t reach a pre-set point. It is also absolutely imperative to normalize taking breaks and doing activities just to enjoy and not necessarily be the best at.
Trigger Warning: The following paragraph deals with themes of addiction and suicide.
With the stigma around mental health and therapy in India, burned-out individuals seek unhealthy coping mechanisms. The pressure to excel kills. Not just in the form of substance abuse and depression, but also in the form of increased rates of anxiety which in turn increases chances of heart attacks later in life.
The swing between imposter syndrome and being burned out has been deeply internalized by most of us. We must remember to validate our work while taking care of our health. It is extremely important to be passionate about your work, but it is equally important to allow yourself to take a break without feeling guilty. The youth of India must not pass down the toxic hustle culture to our children and break the generational cycle of glorifying it.