#OPINION | In Pursuit of Excellence: At What Cost?

by Vyan Abella and Indie Beldia

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Art by Jana Malaya.

Productivity—it’s one of the main driving forces of success. And us Pisay students? We’re no exception to this.

In economics, productivity is a measure of output per unit of input, such as labor. It is the ratio between how much work we’ve done and how much we “earn” after accomplishing them. This is the exact principle society revolves around. By extension, it’s also one we also apply to our personal lives.

We students measure our productivity by studying and finishing our requirements in exchange for some time for rest and leisure, and hopefully a high grade. Ideally, we should be able to strike a balance between our school and personal lives, but we often fail to achieve this and overstep that ideal 1:1 ratio.

It starts when we feel guilty for taking even the smallest breaks, then, we become late for meals. Soon after, we begin pushing back our bedtime just to finish that last assessment. While there’s a sense of relief once we complete everything, after watching some videos or playing a few games, we feel as though there’s still so much more we have to do. So, we start doing another round of requirements and from there, the cycle repeats again and again.

That’s toxic productivity. While at first, it only seems like a minor hindrance—a few headaches in between requirements—toxic productivity can actually start poisoning our daily lives. It’s a mindset, a habit almost, that manifests throughout our day. We constantly set unrealistic expectations for ourselves because “more work is a good thing.”

Relaxing feels more and more like a luxury, and indulging in it feels like a crime. It can even come to the point where we’re deprioritizing our mental health, relationships, and basic necessities. In short, “toxic productivity” is an unhealthy addiction to productivity that leads to more harm than good.

So how does this relate to Pisay?

Toxic productivity can be traced back to its work-related counterpart: hustle culture. As most Pisay students know, schools frequently emulate the corporate office environment where employees are expected to work for a certain number of hours and meet deadlines.

This stems from the belief that school should be preparing students for “real life” and the stress that comes with it. We feel pressured to keep working and to do better. Pisay says they praise excellence and we’re made to believe that it’s measured in proficiency in STEM subjects.

But why does it often feel like they’d rather quantify it in terms of academic compliance and numerical grades? Why should excellence be calculated in numbers? This leads to us equating our self-worth to the amount of requirements or studying we’re able to do.

In other words, our school environment affects our lifestyle, often promoting toxic productivity. It can be seen in how Pisay, with its seemingly endless requirements, still adds to the stress that already comes from this pandemic.

It’s not to say, however, that Pisay doesn’t know or want to understand how we’re doing so far. In fact, they regularly give us feedback forms regarding the overall online learning system. But the problem is that they don’t seem to really understand how much stress we’re under.

With online learning, each subject typically gives one formative assessment (seatworks, quizzes, etc.) per topic. But along with those, we are also given alternative assessments (essays, laboratory reports, research papers, performance or practical exams, etc.) and summative assessments (final exams, long tests, final project outputs, etc.).

In a normal learning environment, this amount of requirements would actually be less than what’s usually given. However, instead of having the lessons taught by our teachers for a specific amount of time, we have to study and absorb the given materials on our own.

Pisay has given us a suggested class schedule, but most of the time, learning the modules takes more than what was recommended. Since there is no physical boundary separating our school and personal time, we often study overtime just to meet that deadline. This self-learning, combined with the requirements, is too much.

Since we’re now studying from home, we can often feel less productive during the recommended class time because we lack a conducive learning environment. A lot of us can’t afford to make a more productive area due to lack of resources, time, or energy. So we either push through that unproductive slump, causing us more stress in the process, or do our requirements at a different time, making us feel like we’ve just wasted time procrastinating.

It’s easy to blame ourselves for not being productive at a given time, but there are certain factors that are out of our control.

Although Pisay gives us soft deadlines and reminds us to “work at your own pace,” overwhelming us with mountains of requirements appears to serve no other purpose than to encourage toxic productivity. It makes us feel like we have to work constantly because flexible deadlines are still deadlines; if there’s one thing we can’t do, it’s to submit late. Late submissions make us regret spending time on ourselves when we could’ve done requirements instead. After all, toxic productivity only rewards output, and mental health is just sidelined.

It’s easy to forget the long-term consequences of toxic productivity. We sleep for 4-6 hours at a time, work through the headaches, and brush it all off with a cup of coffee. Even though we’re aware of the negative impact this brings on our health, it’s much easier not to be concerned because self-care is often seen as a waste of time — time that could instead be used to work on requirements. But constantly working through the pain and the fatigue will one day inevitably lead to burnout.

Burnouts, breakdowns, and stress are often joked as being part of the Pisay package, but these are all legitimately prevalent issues that a lot of us students face. Thankfully, the Guidance Counseling Unit (GCU), the Big Brother Sister Circle (BBSC), and Kandili have all been working to help us cope with and prevent these issues.

The GCU, through the assigned guidance counselors and BBSC, has always been there to guide and support us both mentally and emotionally. Not to mention Kandili, a newly formed subcommittee under the Transitional Council (TC) that also helps students by offering self-care mental health advice.

With October being mental health awareness month, the GCU, BBSC, and Kandili have been working on events held online and infographics and games posted on Twitter and Facebook. But even if they have been working to help us adjust, we students, even those not involved in mental health initiatives, still have a role to play in creating a healthier space for everyone. It can be something as small as a “Good luck!” before every exam. It can be a helping hand with a question they can’t understand. Or it can be a calming voice telling them to breathe when they’re suffocating in stress.

Beyond just the actions of the student body and the faculty, the PSHS System Management and Executive Committees still have a responsibility to lighten the load and further prioritize our mental health. As good as the mental health seminars they hold are, they can’t be applied effectively if most of us don’t even have the time to attend them due to all the schoolwork we have to do.

Toxic productivity is a two-way mindset. While schools and society play a big role in the perpetuation of it, we ourselves have to stop equating productivity to work when it also relies on practicality. As oversaid as it is, we really should be working smarter, not harder. After all, we can’t keep functioning if we’re always sick or tired.

While we should always seek self-improvement, we shouldn’t focus on that alone too. Mental and physical health are equally as important and should still be maintained during the process.

Toxic productivity doesn’t have to be inevitable nor irreversible. While it’s natural to stress over school, try not to let it consume you. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and understand that progress isn’t linear. The constant ups and downs really are frustrating but always remember that the Pisay community is here for you.

We Pisay students have a mindset that’s heavily reliant on toxic productivity. Whether or not you yourself suffer from this poisonous lifestyle, you’re probably still more or less affected by it. It all ties back to the system.

Our own brains may be the one telling us more work is better, but it’s the PSHS System that perpetuates it. Should we even try to excel if it’s just defined as how many requirements we can finish? Is excellence, at the cost of our wellbeing, worth it?

Disclaimer: This article is the first part of the In Pursuit of Excellence series. The second part will be published within this week.

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