I used to think there was something glamorous about all-nighters.
Coffee in hand, donned in sweats, my friends and I would make our way to the library for a night of thesis writing. It was strangely invigorating, and though I was tired, it made me feel proud, important, and like I was going somewhere with my life.
My french husband would find this very odd. "Where you were going," he would say, "Is to a library—on a tuesday night—in pajamas."
This was not a glamorous image for my husband. Why was it glamorous to me? I'd argue it's because:
Americans are strangely obsessed with being busy.
Like my cousin, who felt the need to leave up status updates about how she was at the library in college, even when she wasn't, so that she wouldn't be judged for not working hard enough.
Or my sister, who has to make up activities that she did during her day because, as a stay at home Mom, if she admits she spent 30 minutes watching the news, she's a waste of space.
Or my friend, who is on anti-depressants because she says that her clinical residency schedule prevents her from ever seeing the sun. Literally.
We do these things. Because in this country, the American Dream has taught us that work is the key to success, and that being busy means you are someone whose time is important and scarce.
We're too busy for niceties.
This is also why we get away with being cold, short, and even mean in emails, at coffeeshops, to our collegues.
Is this normal? Is it healthy?
In many European countries, like France, work is considered a necessity, nothing more. There are laws in place to defend the 35 hour work week, and it is considered sad and a sign of unhappiness if you need to work all the time. There isn't the same sense of "pride" in regards to working hard. It's just not how people define themselves.
I'm not here to judge one way over the other, especially since I often spend nights working until 2:30 in the morning, even though I'm a new Mom, and even though my husband has always stood by the fact that I don't have to work if I don't want to.
I want to. I'd even go as far as to say I'd want to even if I didn't make any money. Maybe I even need to. I need to work for my sense of sanity, my sense of self, and my sense of pride. Because I grew up in a society that taught me to value myself on how productive I'm being and how hard I push myself, and I spent 8 hours a day for 25 years learning how to be a productive member of society. So that's me. I'm a done deal.
But what am I going to teach my children?
Do I teach him that a caffeine addiction and bags under his eyes is a sign of a successful life? Do I teach him that you need to "grind" and "hustle" if you want to be happy and fulfilled? Do I tell him not to worry, that there are anti-depressants he can take when the stress and anxiety get to be too much?
Or do I teach him that there is a time for everything: work, family, relaxation, meditation, prayer? Do I teach him that he is valued by the way his eyes turn into little almonds when he smiles, and the way his kind nature makes everyone around him feel happy?
I think I will teach him to take the background of his mother and father and build a life for himself that is about being present no matter what he's doing. So that when he's working, he's giving it his all. But when he's resting, he's truly resting.
I will teach him balance. And then maybe he can teach me.
Photo by Brooke Cagle