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The Vicious Cycle: How My Productivity Became My Identity

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by Harshita GaneshFollow @harshikapoor17

I don’t know who I am when I am not productive. Unlike most people, I don’t have much of an identity or really a word that can personify my personality. The only real phrase that I can link to my personality is: “Carbon copy of my dad.” As I get older and blossom into an adult, I realize that God literally took my dad’s personality and copy-pasted it onto me.

My father is an immensely successful engineer, distinguished in his field, respected by his peers, and almost over-qualified for any task he is given. So when you think about it, it is not a bad thing to share the same personality. If there is one feature that we are most certainly “indistinguishably” diagnosed with, it is that we are workaholics. We both need to constantly work on something and keep our minds occupied, every second of our schedules packed with tasks, and mark checks all over our metaphorical and literal to-do lists.

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We are different in the sense, however, that my workaholism is there for a different, maybe even more sinister, reason. My productivity is my identity. If I am not working, I am just a hollow shell that doesn’t have much of a purpose. Ever since I was in middle school, I always felt that success was quantifiable. The number of competitions I took part in and, subsequently, the number of awards I won, displayed my worthiness. Each grade I got defined my intelligence and my ability to be successful. While other kids were just carefree and couldn’t care less about the number of awards they won, I would be at home almost heartbroken that I didn’t win more awards than certain people. While other kids were having fun, my mind would be burdened with how to work harder to get the most awards and the best grades the next year. Slowly, because of that, my depression worsened. To try to make it go away, I would fill my schedule to the absolute brim – that way, I could, theoretically, be better than everyone else.

But that just left me tired, still feeling inadequate, and even more depressed. It was a subconscious vicious cycle that I could never break free from. I would spend evenings upon evenings feeling worthless, and every time my mom would bring up so-and-so’s kid’s success (not to compare me to that kid but just sharing as daily news), a fire would singe in my chest, telling me to continue to work otherwise I would never be worthy.

I have tied my own worth and dignity to the ability to be productive. It is very unhealthy and very painful, but that is how I am. Like most Asian parents, my parents would always tell me:

You can be anything you want to be as long as you work hard and become the best at it.

Even though that was said with the intention to be encouraging, it almost reinforced the purpose of my vicious cycle, giving it more of a reason to exist.

[Read Related: I’m Not Sad, Lazy or Non-Religious: How to Identify Signs of Depression]

I don’t have much of any natural talent, to be honest. Really I am just a “jack of all trades, master of none,” and even though I work harder than most of the people I know, I am still never even close to the being smartest or the most competent person in the room. Almost everything that is said to me about my ability to do a task is warped and twisted into some stupid reason as to why I don’t deserve to be studying something, or doing something, or have that job. The only thing I know how to do is work hard. That is the only thing I can do.

The struggle of working hard and never feeling adequate stems from insecurities that have never secured themselves into positivity, but have only been engraved into negativity. Every day I look at myself in the mirror and question my worth as a young adult. I realize that the more I care about my productivity, the angrier I will be. But for that day, I swallow my anger at my lack of quantifiable accomplishments and continue to participate in my stubborn, subconscious cycle of productivity. I just hope that one day I will gain the wisdom and mental strength to break free.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you have a personal story you would like to share, please email us at Staff@browngirlmagazine.com with your submission.


Harshita Ganesh is a South Indian-Bollywood enthusiast; a princess who is here to fight patriarchy; a dancer; a pianist; and an explorer. Her main love is writing scripts on topics regarding empowerment and hopes to one day have one of her films made. She is currently an undergraduate engineering student in Europe and hopes to get a law degree soon after.

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