I closed the textbook and leaned back in my chair. I stared at the dimly lit ceiling. My phone suddenly started to vibrate. Mom’s calling. I declined the call and impulsively texted, “Sorry, I’ll call you later.” “Are you okay?” she asked. “I’m fine, I’m studying.” “Make sure to get some rest, okay mi pony?” “Ya se.” “Please don’t sleep late. You need to rest.”

I wanted to reply, “I know. But do I deserve to?” Instead, I wrote, “Don’t worry about me. Te quiero.”

Worrying other people is something I try to avoid. I’m terrible at it; I have a horrible poker face when I’m exhausted or anxious. I stare blankly at the walls instead of looking at others in their eyes. I stay silent while thoughts blare in my mind. When my friends ask, “Should I be worried?” I immediately reply, “No, no, don’t be.” You’ve got enough to worry about with school and work. I’m not worthy of your concern. I don’t deserve it.

The question of worth has been haunting my thoughts since middle school. The question shifts depending on the season. In seventh grade, it used to be: “Do I deserve to be alive?” Last year, I wondered: “Do I deserve to be here at Yale?” This semester, it has been: “Do I deserve to rest?” 

If any of my friends asked these questions, I would answer: of course you deserve to live. Of course you deserve to be here. Of course you deserve to rest. But when I’m asking the same questions, I hesitate to give myself the same grace. Readings lay untouched on my desk. Crumpled worksheets streaked with red marks litter its dusty corners. I’m not working hard enough. If I want to graduate and live the “good life,” I can’t afford to rest. I don’t deserve to. And if someone asks why I don’t follow my advice, I’ll just tell them, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

It is easier to say than it is to do. In my experience, this applies to most things. Why this is, I’m not sure. It probably has to do with feeling. It is easy to say, “I should rest.” But to feel like that is a true statement — that is where I fail. And Yale students seem to succumb to the same thinking process.

Hard work and worthiness have become tightly intertwined in Yale’s culture; it is difficult to untie the annoying knot that leaves most students frayed. Productivity and work are bound together. And to work means sacrificing threads of time, weaving knowledge and application into a tapestry for hours. Everyone knits to the American tune of hustle culture and tunes out their thoughts and worries. It is a badge of honor when productivity leads to a passing grade, but often, it seems like students earn that badge at the cost of their mental and physical health. They overestimate their abilities to push through their tiredness, sickness, injury. Any holes in the tapestry are hastily patched up, and whether one deserves to do something apart from work is a question that is dismissed. If we rest at any point, it is for the purpose of doing more work later. At the start of midterm season, when I asked a couple of students “How are you?” I’ve heard, “I’m tired” and “I didn’t get enough sleep.” I’ve responded with, “Just a suggestion. How about you nap?” “No, I need to do work,” they replied. One of them chuckled. “Isa, I know you’re in a comedy group,” he said. “But the jokes stop here.” 

It should be comedic that to succeed, we feel like we must sacrifice our well-being and some of our self-worth. Our success depends on us living to succeed, not living for succeeding. Instead, the latter sentiment seems to be Yale’s mantra. It is whispered in various environments: a classroom, a club space, the Yale affirmations Instagram page: “I am not already burning out,” “I thoroughly complete all my readings,” “The thought of midterms does not make me want to vomit,” “I am too cool for hustle culture,” “I will ace my midterms I will ace my midterms I will ace my midterms I will ace my midterms I will ace my midterms.” These are the different notes we repeat, whether we’re alone or with others, whether we sing in the day or at night. But they ultimately follow the same song: success is the answer to the question of what we’re worth. Work is how we get there.

I followed my classmates’ example and whistled along. I walked into my seminar one week while I had the “Yague.” I didn’t want to be there; I woke up feeling groggy and the inside of my mask was soaked thanks to my runny nose. I sat towards the back and nodded a “hello” at the professor. He cautiously eyed me. “Are you okay?” he asked. “It’s just the cold that’s going around,” I told him, as nonchalantly as I could. During class, my professor quickly noticed that I was balling up countless tissues and pulling my mask down to wipe my nose. “Isa, I’m sorry, but I have to ask you to leave.”

I didn’t feel embarrassed. I felt relieved. Thank God. Someone changed the melody. Yale’s administration hadn’t said anything about the Yague until Oct. 1 when Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd sent an email reminding students about their options in deciding whether to attend class. We shouldn’t have to reach a low point in our well-being to determine if our health is worth the readings or lectures we would need to catch up on. Look at the stores, the classrooms, the public areas with signs on their doors that remind others to wear their masks, get the vaccine, wash their hands. Rest and health are not things that are or aren’t “worth” it. They are priorities. 

I ask the student who wonders if they’re worthy of rest to ask a different question: why embed work with worth? 

ISA DOMINGUEZ is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at isa.dominguez@yale.edu

ISA DOMINGUEZ