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Fatigue and Success

Why do people boast about how tired they are?

The answer is complicated, but the basic cause is that, in the modern world, we’re so busy rushing from one thing to another that we have no time to stop and think about what really matters to us. So we fall back on tiredness as a way of justifying our actions.

In order to understand this, it’s important to recognize how the idea of “tiredness” has changed over the last century.

In the time of our grandparents, tiredness was seen as a natural and even desirable state. You were tired because you were doing something useful, like working the land or raising children. The alternative was to be idle, and that was considered a terrible sin. In many ways, the culture of tiredness was a way of ensuring that people stayed active and fulfilled their obligations to their family, their community, and their God.

But in the last century, everything changed. The rise of the welfare state meant that fewer people had to work as hard just to survive, and so the idea of being “tired” drifted away from being a sign that you were doing something useful, and toward being a sign that you were actually doing something. Not just anything, but something that was probably bad for you.

“Tiredness” started to be seen as a sign that you were failing to take proper care of yourself. This led to the rise of our modern-day health industry. If you weren’t tired, it meant you weren’t properly resting. And if you weren’t properly resting, then it was the doctor’s job to make you so.

Why, then, have we become so invested in the idea that to be fulfilled, you also have to be knackered?

This is how the idea of “tiredness” as a disease has developed. All the way through the 20th century, there were more and more people who didn’t need to work to keep themselves alive, and so there were more and more people who were physically exhausted, and more and more people who were diagnosed with “tiredness.”

Since then, the idea of tiredness as a disease has taken hold. If you are tired, you are suffering from a condition called “fatigue,” and you are in need of a “cure”— more rest, or maybe a pill. It’s become the new opium of the masses, a way to medicate ourselves out of our existential agony.

Even the word “tired” has changed meaning. In the past, it was used to describe a physical state. Now it has become a mental state. We’re tired because our minds are wandering, because we’re distracted, because we’re not doing the things we really want to do.

In the modern world, there are so many things competing for our attention, and so many ways to distract ourselves, that we can find ourselves too tired to do the things we really care about, even when we know we should. That’s why we end up feeling guilty for not doing enough, for not being tired enough.

It’s also why the idea of tiredness has become so popular in the workplace.

Always On

Today, workers are expected to be “always on,” to be available at all hours, and to respond to emails at all times. The idea is that there is no “off” switch, because if you’re at work, you’re meant to be working. If you aren’t working, you’re meant to be networking, or on social media, or communicating with colleagues. Even if you are at home, you’re meant to be working.

The fact that this idea is so deeply entrenched is why you can find yourself feeling guilty for feeling tired, even when you are doing nothing at all. It’s why if you start making a habit of taking days off, your colleagues will worry that you are about to quit your job. It’s why you can feel guilty for not networking, even when you are at home, or you can feel guilty for not working when you are on holiday.

When we feel guilty for being tired, we end up doing stupid things. We work longer hours, we work on weekends, we skip holidays, and we neglect our health. All of this makes us more tired, and so we feel even guiltier, and the cycle continues.

This is why I am against tiredness as a sign of success. It’s not just because it makes us do stupid things, but because it’s also a sign that we don’t know how to relax. If we did, we wouldn’t be tired.

Want to be successful? Learn to relax. It’s crazy, but it works.