“The best advice I can give you, man, is don’t take everyone’s advice”.

It was 2016 and I was on the steps of Melbourne Town Hall. I had been interviewing a performer for a video about the Melbourne Comedy Festival right before their bus was about to leave for Trades Hall.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, this remains the piece of advice I have most taken on board in the four years following.

Not taking everyone’s advice seems obvious since nobody really knows what they’re doing. Right?

But when we see a crisply formatted infographic or a ring-lit influencer appear on our screens preaching words of wisdom, our natural inclination is to take it as fact. However, apples aren’t oranges and a basic command of Canva or Indesign isn’t the same as having a psych degree.

There are certain trends that I’ve noticed these past few months in lockdown that have worried me.

The resurrection of #hustleporn would be one of them. The trend of faux-entrepreneurs, Instagram influencers and podcast motivators who relentlessly promote constant self-fashioning and personal growth during all our “free time” in isolation.

This time is not free. It is a cost.

A cost to our mental health, our physical well-being and our sense of safety.  

The idea that we should continue producing in the same capacity as before (or to any extent we feel is uncomfortable) is misleading. To suggest we must produce emotion, intellect and labour in a fashion unchanged from prior to COVID is absurd.

Any school of thought that encourages basing self-worth on achievement is problematic even in non-pandemic times.

Further, it is a philosophy rife with privilege and an absence of empathy.  

There is a brilliant metaphor for our current situation in George Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier” when discussing the debilitating effect of unemployment on workers who have found themselves unexpectedly saddled with ‘free time’ or ‘leisure’ as he describes it.

“Why, then, do they make so little use of their talents? They have all the leisure in the world; why don’t they sit down and write books? Because to write books you need not only comfort and solitude—you also need peace of mind. You can’t settle to anything, you can’t command the spirit of hope in which anything has got to be created, with that dull evil cloud of unemployment hanging over you.”

The dull cloud for many is of course unemployment. However as we all know, clouds can take many forms.

This is not a call to throw up our arms, admit defeat and presume the situation cannot be at all salvaged. This is a friendly reminder that you are not defined by your productivity. 

Everyone is floundering. Nobody really knows what they’re doing. If you need help, ask for it. If you want to eat chocolate all day, go for it.

If you do require support, you can contact:

Sweeney Preston is a YACVic young member and 22-year-old comedian, cinema worker and anthropology student at the University of Melbourne. Alumni of the infamous Melbourne University Law Revue, he is also passionate about pigs, people and politics.

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