We live in a culture that thrives on valuing hard work. This is great! We enjoy trading anecdotes of success stories and how we pulled ourselves up from our bootstraps, and as college students, one of our favorite things to do is to complain about how much we deprive ourselves. If I had an hour for every time I hear about how you got 45 minutes of sleep last night or a grain of rice for listening to about how your last meal was last week, I would be an obese sloth. Seriously.
Whether or not you agree, sleep deprivation is an epidemic. This happens with a type of competition over a currency of sleep, or “how much we value hard work.“ You got five hours of sleep? Oh wow. That’s amazing. I got three. See how I am just a more dedicated individual?
Where did we get the idea that the lack of sleep is the indicator of commitment to the job? We have business insider articles like “18 successful people who get by on barely any sleep” and even studies suggesting that eight hours is not necessary. We hear about how Edison thrived on four hours, how da Vinci only needed two, Obama’s four, Condoleezza’s 4:30 AM workouts and it does not end there. Clinton was even told by some professor that great people need less sleep! Edison justified this behavior as he believes sleep to be a “heritage to our cave days.”
This bragging about our commitment through lack of sleep is reinforced with other things. There is a self-righteousness that comes with deprivation. It sounds like this: I survived the 30-day juice cleanse. I only limit myself to one piece of candy per year. I am a raw vegan. I wanted to cuss today, but I did not. I fast regularly. I deny myself like Gandhi and Jesus, and I don’t sleep because I am busy studying and saving the world. Sleep is overrated because in addition to holding up three jobs and trying to get decent grades while maintaining a semblance of a social life, I also want to be like Sheryl Sandberg and do it all while “putting myself out there,” whatever that means. At a Christian University, this behavior is taken to greater heights, because self-deprivation, to a certain extent, is tolerated, if not suggested, in certain parts of the Bible. However, in Luke chapter 18, Jesus talks about the Pharisee and the tax collector, and unfortunately, I don’t think the takeaway is that the Pharisee who fasts twice a week and tithes heavily is what Christians are supposed to emulate.
Rather, the tax collector who beat his breast and asked God to take mercy on him was said to be “exalted.” On that note, I don’t think self-denial is truly self-denial when it is conducted under the expectation of immense reward. I think that’s called an investment. Self-denial includes a departure from self-interest and a commitment to the good of others. No amount of self-righteous humble bragging over the game of “holy and committed deprivation” will change that.
After all, can’t we just all agree that we are all tired?
Follow Justina Huang on Twitter: @huanderwoman