In a world that runs high on LinkedIn profiles, articulate CVs and hustle culture, nobody has the time to stop and stare. Each step of your professional life has to be meticulously planned and successfully executed; there is no scope for mistakes whatsoever. Individuals are constantly in the pursuit of outperforming their peers.
This leads to a feeling of being burned out, with young folks everywhere, tired of the endless hours and high pressure at work.
It is not an isolated phenomenon – the glorification of hustle culture and impossible deadlines has led to a mental health crisis. However, in this cutthroat race of projects and emails, some people tend to suffer more than others. When geography intersects with the arduous office and college work, you have the recipe for disaster ready to deliver.
There are hundreds of students who, in the first place, are unable to afford the opportunities that will propel them to a better life. Lack of coaching institutes for competitive entrances, inability to access resources, an absence of the culture of excellence in their local areas is some of the many reasons that hinder youth from moving to cities.
For the select few who do, it is not a bed of roses either. Cultural shock is a very real experience for thousands of students and young professionals, trying to make a mark for themselves. They feel out of place in an ecosystem that is designed to exclude them, leading to a perennial struggle to devise ways and means to fit among the supposed ‘high society’.
“The cultural shift was substantial. Their (my friends) conversations revolved around Hollywood movies and shows, even the names of which I had not really heard of. So, that was kind of overwhelming while trying to fit in,” Siddharth Bastia, a third-year B. Tech student at NIT Rourkela explains.
Moreover, students and professionals often have higher benchmarks set for them in order to even survive. To make a name for themselves in a rapidly progressing scene, it becomes crucial to make their voices heard. However, that becomes difficult when you come from small towns and suburbs.
“When you come from a small town, you have to hustle in order to reach the table, leave alone securing a seat at it. You have to work on carving your own niche and keep working,” Gouraprasad Das, a former legal intern at the State Commission for Women and a native of Baripada, Odisha says.
The gendered impact of the phenomenon too cannot be understated. At a lot of times, parents in small towns are wary of letting their daughters study in another town, unaccompanied. The apprehensions of gendered violence and the patriarchal constructs of confining women to domestic spaces play a significant role in obstructing any chances that they might have at securing a better career.
In the few cases that girls actually avail themselves of the opportunity to move out, restrictions on their mobility are imposed, often irrationally. They are subject to strict curfews, barred from using digital communication without supervision and placed in a state of constant surveillance. The constant denigration of their autonomy and the added pressure of work has the impact of double jeopardy on girls and women who come from small towns.
Intense work hours and the endeavour to prove oneself often take a toll on youth who are starting out. The dearth of a safety valve plays a significant role in further intensifying these efforts. That they would have to return to the starting line and redo the entire process all over again becomes a serious cause of concern.
This constant interplay of work pressure, navigating roadblocks and the fear of losing access to privileged spaces generates an atmosphere that adversely impacts mental health.
Unlike their more privileged, urban counterparts who can afford to take a break so as to cope with the professional turmoil, it is not an option for small-town folks who risk losing all they have worked for.
The absence of opportunities back home and an unforgiving environment that restrains growth are crucial factors in young professionals’ hustling through toxic work cultures.
“I moved to a bigger city just on account of the fact that my town lacked a single good college, even for my intermediate studies. The institutions for pursuing my graduation were worse and that was one of the primary reasons it drove me to work harder and secure a seat at a good college,” Bastia, who is also an incoming intern at Qualcomm India and a native of Puri goes on to say.
It becomes imperative, at such a crucial turning, to learn how to cope with the anxiety that accompanies these intense hours of work. For some, it includes building a support group of peers which is a safe space to vent. Often, interacting with like-minded individuals helps ease off tensions and chart a path out of the turmoil.
“I was lucky to have a few of my school friends with me while I made the transition and that really helped me get accustomed to the new environment. I’d suggest to talk to your school friends if you can as you can be yourself with them without judgement,” he adds.
Another alternative in an extremely fast-paced world is availing professional help in the form of counselling or therapy. However, the inherent stigma and taboo around mental health services restrain many young persons from going that way.
“As everyone is not fortunate enough to be able to see a therapist, I tend to cope with increased stress by working out, maintaining a healthy sleep cycle and talking to my friends. The fear of returning to what you came from can often be stressful, so one needs to have proper mechanisms to deal with it,” says Das, who is also a third-year law student at KIIT School of Law emphasizes further.
Small town youth often face an uphill task in availing resources and accessing spaces which puts them at a disadvantage. With more and more young professionals speaking up and acknowledging that there is a problem, maybe there’s still hope for systemic and sustained change in the ecosystem.