When I was a junior in college, we were hit by a severe outbreak of salmonella, a result of undercooked eggs in some stuffing. It was so bad, people were literally collapsing in the quad. The walls of the infirmary were lined with retching students and the National Guard had to be called in to help with the situation.
In the aftermath, a weird sort of competitiveness set in among those who had been unfortunate enough to contract the disease. People tried to one-up each other over who had lost the most weight or had the most wrenching story of illness. It was weird and always stuck with me as a bizarre kind of commentary on my fellow students and the culture of competition that existed at a college known for its pre-med and pre-law programs. Who competes over misery?
I've seen a similar kind of competition in the work world--who is most stressed and over-worked? We see exhaustion, depletion and anxiety as a strange badge of honor. On some level it seems to communicate our worthiness. We complain about being overworked, but at the same time, there's a competitive edge to our complaints. "I have it worse than you do," we seem to be saying, as though this is somehow the measure of our lives. We secretly judge those who seem to be less stressed, as though they are not working as hard as we are and therefore are less worthy.
I no longer want to be part of the anxiety wars. I don't want to feel somehow inadequate if I'm not putting in 12+ hour days and working from a state of depletion and worry. I don't want to judge the worth of my fellow human beings based on whether or not they seem to be "working hard enough," which in our culture has come to mean working to the point of exhaustion. I don't want to compete anymore on misery.
I want to start a new competition, one that focuses on how energized and creative we feel. I want to support a culture that says there's something wrong with our lives if we are constantly living with a low-grade (or higher grade) anxiety. A culture that doesn't value depletion, but asks what we can do to re-fill people's wells.
I want out of the Anxiety Wars. Who wants to come with me?