Toxic Productivity & Comparison Culture’s impact on University Students
As young adults in the 21st century, we constantly compare ourselves with who we see on social media. For years, most toxic comparisons have surrounded face value things such as physical appearance and material objects that others may have. Amidst the pandemic, TikTok and Linkedin have become breeding grounds for comparing work ethic and lifestyle habits. Because of the recent glamorization of productivity culture across social media, students are experiencing feelings of inadequacy in their productivity levels and the output they are producing in our academic careers and lifestyle habits.
These days, it is virtually impossible to feel like you are doing enough in your life after scrolling through TikTok in the morning for more than 2 minutes. I have seen an increasing amount of daily vlog-like videos depicting the day in the life of a said “that girl” or “that student.”
TikTok & “That Girl”
This person is what most would call an over-achiever. They get up at 7 am for the gym, journal, read ONLY self-help books (Rich Dad Poor Dad is the most common one I have seen), get 10,000 steps a day, stay on top of ALL their work, and chug green juice down like it is the only drink that matters. That girl/student manages to have the energy to study for at least 5–8 hours a day, cook nutritious dinners, somehow gets 8 hours of sleep, and looks ridiculously amazing while doing all of this and displaying it in a highly aestheticized 15–30 second video.
Not everyone can maintain this heavily glamourized lifestyle. Some people have part-time jobs that restrict them from going to the gym every morning. Others cannot study as much as they wish because they have siblings to take care of. Most importantly, not everyone has the financial stability and privilege to prioritize their physical and mental health and wellness as much as these people on social media do.
Eating clean meals and rarely ordering in is an ideal most people wish they had but most likely cannot afford, and that is OKAY. Entrepreneurial mouthpieces will find any opportunity to say that “we all have the same 24 hours in the day,” but we don’t.
This digital trend has created an ideological structure of what the “best version of ourselves” looks like and ends up contradicting itself and diminishes the purpose of doing better for ourselves in our OWN lives. Modelling your life after what you “think is right” is far different than what is right for you and your lifestyle.
Someone can wake up at 11 AM and get the same amount of home work done in their day as their counterpart that was up and running on the treadmill at 7:10 AM. A student can be well-read and informed about the world without restricting themselves to only reading cookie-cutter financial literacy and self-help books. The most common comparison I have seen in academic communities is the constant need to belittle those who party or engage in social gatherings more. I know countless social butterflies and party animals whose resumes and skills beat out strictly academically oriented people because they understand balance and don’t model their lives after what they think is the right way to do so.
Looking down on other people’s lifestyles and utility levels neglects the fact that people can have a balanced life and do not need to be working towards this romanticized ideal of self-growth all the time. Some find comfort in having a more stable and traditional route to success and self-betterment, rather than becoming the ultimate “hustler” or “girl boss.”
Linkedin & Resume Guilt
As a first-year business student and avid LinkedIn user, I can without a doubt say that sometimes Linkedin feels more toxic than the comparison-oriented apps of Instagram and TikTok. What sets LinkedIn apart from the rest is how the comparisons do not inflict negative feelings about our physical appearance or lack of objects/experiences, it does worse. Linkedin makes us feel inadequate about our intellectuality and professional capabilities and can be more impactful than superficial comparisons.
It is a universal experience to scroll through LinkedIn and see someone around your age having a stacked resume filled with stellar extracurriculars, prestigious internship experience, and impressive connections. They seem like a walking gold star. More times than not, you are left feeling humbled after going through a few profiles of your academic and professional counterparts.
Amidst internship and recruitment season, I have seen so many of my friends feel increasingly inadequate and face a form of professional FOMO (fear of missing out) because of the constant job and internship-oriented content. After hundreds of job announcement posts on your LinkedIn feed, it feels like something is going wrong for you when you have not even received one interview email.
Like TikTok and any other social media app, it is crucial to keep in mind that Linkedin also serves as a platform that enables highlight reels and fluffing up experiences to make ourselves look more attractive to our followers and viewers. I have found that most of the experiences and qualifications that people list on their Linkedin profiles are HEAVILY exaggerated and sometimes flat-out lies.
I believe in the mantra of quality>quantity and how it profoundly applies to resumes and Linkedin. Recently I participated in a Recruitment Workshop hosted by Ivey Business School Career Management. In this workshop, Ivey HBA Career Manager Melissa Gunnis said that students “do not HAVE to work at an established/name brand company in your first summer” and how we “should do what we want to do rather than what people have told us what we should be doing.”
She went on to reveal that internship recruiters say that “firms look more at transferable skills and interpersonal qualities more than resume bullet points when hiring people.”
A second-year student who worked as a camp councillor over the summer may possess far more interpersonal and teamwork skills than their classmate who worked for a well-known corporate firm in an unfulfilling role that didn’t develop their soft skills or learning experience.
Summing it Up: How to feel less LESS?!
The habit of comparing ourselves with standards portrayed on social media will never end. Whether you compare yourself to superficial content or other people’s resumes, it is hard to turn the cheek and not be affected when we are bombarded with content that makes us feel inadequate at all times of the day. To make your social media experience not inflict these feelings all the time, you must remember that aspiring to an ideal lifestyle or trying to get a fawned-over resume should not be the sole objective.
Pursuing an idealized and structured path overlooks the various practices of achieving success. There should not be only a few restricted paths that get people to their desired goals and best selves because we are all different people who want different things out of life.
This newfound trend of promoting and uplifting productivity is probably the least harmful trend our generation has come up with in a long time, as it only aims to help us achieve our goals. But it is important to remember that just like most aspects of social media, some lives are not as sustainable as they seem online and are more unrealistic than we realize.
In the past few years, we have realized that regular people and celebrities heavily photoshop their pictures and exaggerate their happiness on Instagram and Facebook to curate the most idealized image of themselves for the world. Moreover, the hyper-productive people we see on TikTok and LinkedIn, who we compare ourselves to and wish we could be on the same “level” on, are guilty of doing the same thing, if not more.
We should always be inspired by other people’s good habits and be open to pursuing new experiences, but comparing ourselves internalizes negative feelings and defeats the purpose of positive growth and fulfillment.