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Capitalism Broke My Brain. This ‘Alabama’ Song Helped Me Fix It.
A Personal Essay
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In Solidarity — Joe
“I’m in a hurry to get things done
Oh, I rush and rush until life's no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
Even I'm in a hurry and don't know why”
— “I’m in a Hurry” by Alabama
I’ve been an anxious person my whole life, but it wasn’t until I entered the workforce that my anxiety reached another level. During my early twenties, I suffered a medical crisis that left me temporarily disabled. While my friends were moving to big cities and starting exciting careers, I had to move back in with my parents and watch endless Netflix as I waited for my body to heal.
When I recovered a few years later, I entered the corporate field with the perception I was “behind” my peers. While they were being promoted out of entry-level jobs, I was applying to them. While they had enough money to afford downtown apartments, I was one of five random roommates sharing a mold-infested slum an hour outside Boston. Feeling I needed to “catch up” to people my age, I focused exclusively on things society deemed worthwhile while shaming myself for doing anything one might consider “lazy” or “slothful.” I woke up at 5 a.m. every morning to lift weights, dedicated myself to climbing the corporate ladder, and consumed every news article, political book, and educational resource I could find. I never sat on the couch, played video games, or slept in. A year later, I was in the best shape of my life, had a high-visibility job at a leading tech company, and had even passed the State Department’s Foreign Service Officer Test, a notoriously difficult exam.
By any measure, I was a successful young professional, rising through the capitalist hierarchy while constantly challenging myself both physically and intellectually.
I was also ungodly miserable.
During this time, I viewed life not as an opportunity, but as a series of challenges, each needing to be conquered so I could “move up” in the world. The “associate” prefixed to my job title made me feel inferior, so I worked obsessively until I was promoted and it was erased. I didn’t like how out-of-shape I had gotten during my disability, so I went to the gym every day for three years straight, compulsively tracking calories and pounds lifted. I hated how disability had numbed my mind, so I studied everyone and everything until I could recite obscure facts about whatever was happening in the world.
As the band Alabama sang thirty years ago: I was in a hurry to get things done. I rushed and rushed until life was no fun. All I had to do was live and die. But I was in a hurry, and I didn’t know why.
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I’m happy to say that I have long outgrown this phase. After maxing out my insurance-allowed therapy hours and spending countless more introspecting on my life, I no longer feel the need to be Doing Something 24/7. Like most healthy people, I now spend time on ostensibly “unproductive” things, such as watching sports, playing video games, and hanging out with friends.
Looking back on it, I’m fascinated with that period of my life. Having recovered from a terrible ailment, I should have been joyous and happy-go-lucky. I was given a second chance at life, something many severely ill people never get. Instead, I was competing against everyone in everything all the time. While it’s undeniable the disability had a lasting psychosis on me, it will come as no surprise to JoeWrote readers that I think capitalism contributed to my negative worldview. Our society is not one of collaboration, but one of competition. From a very young age, we’re taught that money and status are the results of ingenuity and hard work — personal characteristics that show someone has advanced through society on merit, whether learned or innate. Under this competitive capitalist system, it’s only natural for young Americans to feel devalued when they are not at the corporate peak. Whether they are disabled or working monotonous, underpaid jobs, how could one not feel unworthy in a world that tells them only power and money are the products of success?
Fortunately, this is no longer how I see the world. While therapy healed my thoughts, oddly enough, the interest in politics and culture that began during my #grindset period showed me that our hyper-competitive culture is a charade — something the wealthy and powerful tell us to justify their place atop the social hierarchy. I no longer feel the need to be climbing, climbing, climbing not because I don’t think hard work and challenging yourself are worthy pursuits (I do), but because I realize the ladder I was told to ascend isn’t real.
I’m writing this because I suspect many people, young and old, feel the way I did. Society is telling us we need to exercise, party, invest, have friends, find a partner, run marathons, and more, all while working at least forty hours a week to increase shareholder value. Then, when all this is done, and we’re so tired we can’t do anything except DoorDash dinner and turn on Netflix, it tells us that we didn’t work hard enough or aren’t smart enough to be worth celebrating. This is lie, and, as I’ve come to see, not a very convincing one.
If you’d like to learn more about why I think our capitalist hierarchy is a sham and how I envision we can fix it, I suggest you subscribe to JoeWrote.