A few months back, I was enjoying my senior year spring break in Valencia, Spain, sipping on sangria while watching the most immaculate sunset. In a matter of 24 hours, my world did a full 180, and ‘Rona struck hard. I was lucky enough to make it back to the US safely, however, things were changing. With the number of COVID cases rising, and toilet paper in grocery stores depleting, it was apparent that the world was about to redefine “normal.”
As self-quarantine, Zoom University, and WFH began, I started getting emails that signed off with: “I hope you are staying safe, healthy, and sane.” The more I thought about it, the more I wondered, “what does it even mean to be ‘sane’ at this time?” Am I allowed to feel “not okay?” Is it entitled of me to feel overwhelmed? In the grand spectrum of things, I was doing just fine - I had a roof over my head, food on the table, financial security, and some really amazing friends by my side. But, mentally I struggled. Worst of all, I told no one. I invalidated my own struggles and convinced myself that it was simply just a phase.
I am an extrovert by nature and quarantine forced me to become a homebody. I had picked up ceramics as a fun senior year elective and that class turned into an online chemistry course. I was a dance major who was used to training 3-5 hours a day in a spacious studio and suddenly, I was forced to complete my major in my bedroom over Zoom. Being stuck in the house 24/7 led me to extreme sensory deprivation. For days on end, I stared at the same wall art, walked on the same wooden surface, sat on the same cloth couch - my senses yearned for newness and change. On top of that, my creativity was stifled. For the past 15 years, dancing was my creative outlet and I was no longer able to do it in its full range of motion. I felt even more defeated knowing that many of my friends’ creativity was at its all-time peak during quarantine. With the lack of creative energy, I lost productivity and motivation.
It wasn’t until I read this Refinery29 article about wuliao (无聊), did I finally take a step back. Wuliao is a Chinese phrase that translates to “the absence of conversation,” or in layman’s term, “boredom.” The op-ed talks about how, “chasing productivity as a goal makes you feel more resentful about doing your part, less able to see the bigger picture, and more anxious about taking a break.” Our minds are wired into believing that since we have more time during quarantine, we must maximize our time and energy into being more productive. We feel guilty when we have “wasted time”, and often forget or even ignore the fact that the world is suffering from a global pandemic.
On the other hand, wuliao breeds calmness and contentment. Now is the perfect time to take on a whimsical activity that would normally be categorized as a “total waste of brainpower and time.” Why? Because not everything you do in life has to have a purpose or meaning. It’s totally okay to want to chill and listen to music or do nothing at all. Society has trained us to believe that if our actions aren’t contributing to a larger purpose, we’re doing something wrong. Despite certain labels such as ‘lazy’ or ‘entitled’ attached to our generation, I truly believe that Gen-Zs are some of the most hard-working individuals out there. From going to school full-time and working a part-time job/internship, to pursuing a passion project or playing on a sports team, our entire lives are dedicated to being productive. But, just as the whole world is “on pause,” productivity can also be put on hold.
To all the Gen-Zs: it’s okay to feel wuliao. To do nothing, and be content with an empty schedule. I know that’s a really tough ask for many of you who are constantly on-the-go, pursuing 10 things at once, but if you ever feel like you need a break - you most definitely deserve one. To the people who thrived creatively during quarantine - I’m proud of you. To those who struggled a little (or a lot) and didn’t feel like their usual selves - I’m also proud of you. This pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon, so trust your own process and know that everything will be okay. For me, quarantine undoubtedly became the most unproductive I’ve ever been, but my wuliao state led me to wild imaginations… including NinetyEight.