This year, everyone who has attended even a few video conferences or remote lectures has certainly heard the theme of the pandemic year “you are on mute”. Almost daily, many of us point out that they are, or someone is on mute. Mute refers to muffled, silenced and voiceless – like people at the moment when their energy to perform runs out and they have to stop.
At times, it feels like there are no people in the Aalto community who are on mute, who have silenced themselves. Each of us is working and moving forward. Friends have completed more credits than ever during the pandemic year. People are changing their workplaces and climbing up from their old positions. Although the virus situation has minimised all travelling, people manage to stay busy even at home and then have time to do nothing else.
On the other hand, sometimes it seems that there are too many people in the Aalto community who have silenced themselves. When weeks are filled with the pressure to achieve and you try to get through your days, your life will go on mute. Everyone knows (or sees by looking in the mirror) the type of people whose life is about meeting the deadlines, their calendars are full, and their lives are filled with school, work and volunteer duties. The person for whom too many things happen “as soon as”. As soon as the period ends or as soon as the internship is over.
In Otaniemi, quite many are really good at overperforming. Some have learned the skill already before their university years through disciplined training or when studying for the matriculation examination or entrance examinations. The ability to get things done is a prerequisite for the progress of studies. The skill of achieving is important and there is a need for it. The strengths of the Aalto community are the willingness to move forward and the drive to develop yourself. Achieving at its best gives you energy and the toughest moments you have are brief and occasional. At worst, overperforming for too long leads to a loss of mental well-being.
At the time of the World Mental Health Day, I started to consider whether my own performing is strengthening my drive or am I overperforming and muting the life that helps me to cope and be well. A while ago I realised that not a day has passed lately without people talking about coping. People around me, myself included, are dreaming about having more time. We would like to have shorter to-do lists. We are able to prioritise our well-being for one week and then all the deadlines start weighing on us and we cannot leave anything undone. More and more people know how to take care of their well-being, do less and ask for help in time. However, in the majority of cases, people only slow down when it is absolutely necessary, and they have no energy left.
Overperforming is a natural reaction to all the expectations placed on us. Teachers hope that we spend more time on assignments, the state hopes that we graduate on time, preferably ahead of time. Families hope that we visit them more often, grandparents would be happy if we called them more often. At work, people ask you if you could take care of matters x and y. When you finally come home at 10pm, you wish you had unscheduled evenings more than once every two weeks, and you would also like to have more time to exercise. You can easily calculate that even at your most efficient pace, you would need 15 evenings per week. Thus, it is no surprise that you will have to disappoint someone who is placing expectations on you.
And even if you have time to take care of everything, you have to mute plenty of colours and lights in your life. When on mute, you are not able to seize new opportunities or jump into spontaneous adventures, when all the energy goes into staying sharp. One hundred per cent performance means that even one surprise can be the straw that broke the camel’s back. 20% of Aalto’s students are at risk of burnout (AllWell 2020) and even more have difficulties with coping on a smaller scale. I have an impression that quite a few of us strive for one hundred per cent performance and try to take care of everything they have promised at the cost of their own well-being.
What if we did not let overperforming mute us? What if we learned to realise that we have enough time and we are enough? It is easier said than done to stop expecting unrealistic achievements. It is easy to imagine that you are able to meet the expectations set by the environment and yourself, but more difficult to accept the inevitability of letting people down. It is much easier to encourage your friend to leave something out and get help with coping. However, when someone asks you how you are and you reply “I’m fine, but everything gets a little too much lately”, the best solution seems to be to push even harder for a few weeks and certainly not admit that you do not have the time nor the energy.
The nice thing about video calls is that you can unmute at the touch of a button, but in real life it takes more skills to balance with overperformance. You also often need the help of others. In both situations, it is important that other people tell you that “you are on mute”, as you do not always realise it.
Tua Videman, AYY's Board Member (Social Policy, Municipal Influencing, Sports)
Help with coping:
Aalto Starting Point of Wellbeing
AYY works to promote the coping of students. Get in touch:
Tua Videman, Board Member (Social Policy, Municipal Influencing, Sports)
Lauri Jurvanen, Social Policy Specialist
E-mails: [email protected]