Working Yourself to Death is the New Trend, or a Requirement?

Photo: Strobist Selfie by digitalalexander (CC)

Ally Zacek is doing too much by someone’s standards. By her own standards, she’s perfectly happy.

A 20-year-old junior at DePaul University with a double major in journalism and P.R./advertising, Zacek splits her time between school, internship with online magazine Beauty Atlas, weekly deadlines for Black Sheep and 15-20 hrs/week at Anthropologie.

“I feel like being here [in Chicago] I’m always itching to be doing something,” Zacek said. “If I ever have a day where I don’t have anything to do, I kinda feel unsettled, so I have to go and find something to do like, for fun or whatever.”

While Zacek enjoys jumping around the city, she recognizes that it can be harmful for some. She’s not the only young person working toward multiple deadlines a week, almost unrealistically.

Like Zacek, I myself work as a volunteer writer with a minimum wage job. First and foremost, we’re students.

As my friend and fellow editor Madeline Happold once said, “I’m tired of having coffee for lunch.”

These young people, these “doers,” often work unpaid internships. Then, they turn around and work a minimum wage job on top of school, if they want to make any money for themselves living in the country’s third largest city.

Jia Tolentino wrote in the New Yorker about how “The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death,” and the economic roots of our need for self-reliance.

Tolentino says we see it in ads from Fiverr, and even in content advertising from brands like Lyft, who wrote a blog post celebrating the work ethics of their drivers when a woman went into labor while on the job. This was meant to be a feel-good, “exciting” advertisement for the company. It backfired on them in the eyes of the hard workers themselves.

Mary, the Lyft driver who went into labor, was driving in Chicago, according to Tolentino. It’s the country’s largest cities that tempt us into overworked lives and hair-losing deadlines.

While some of us love it, some of us want out. Sometimes, wanting out isn’t enough. You’ve already been caught in the deadly cycle of sleep deprived, caffeinated work days. You’re hoping to make it out after graduation, keep a steady job and focus on your career. But you know you’ll have a side hobby – because those dedicated to yoga can’t really do it for the relaxation, right?


Published by

Megan Stringer

Megan Stringer is a student at DePaul University in Chicago majoring in journalism with a minor in creative writing. Her hobbies include photography, making lists, reading The New Yorker, drinking too much coffee, curating her own Instagram, and dancing to LCD Soundsystem. She enjoys brunch and magazines, especially together. Megan hopes to one day make her home look like a bookstore, interspersed with a few good velvet sofas. While living in that bookstore-home, she would like to see her online magazine, Shredded, continue to flourish and strangers continue to meet each other.

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