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The ‘Running Out of Time’ Fear

multiple wooden clocks piled together, all showing different times, indicates running out of time

Roar writer Asra Saqib on the fear of ‘running out of time’ in the professional world.

There is a sense of urgency in the world. It’s going and going, and you have to be on top of it before you get left behind. This feeling of ‘running out of time’ can look like running out of time to do ‘teenager’ activities or to accomplish certain goals with the fear wasting time. I see this in a sense of running out of time to do things for a future job application. This thought can feel very terrifying to me and I’m sure many other students can relate.

Running out of time

There is a rush to have all these achievements and do all these things and be the first to do this thing and the youngest to do that thing in order to have good opportunities in the future. And sure, if you’re a first-year at university, you have another couple of years to do that. But you feel like you should do everything now so you can do more things later. It’s the idea that if you have any amount of time at all, it has to go into something you can sell.

There is a fear of mediocracy and not being enough, since we’re always told that there are millions of people out there who have the same degrees and we need to be able to ‘stand out’. However, in the attempt to ‘stand out’, everyone once again has the same application, and we’re back on the hunt for new ways to be different. It puts internal pressure on us that keeps us on the move. We’re expected to have minimal gaps in a CV and start crafting a workplace personality as early as possible. You end up with a long list of “Things to start doing at 18” acting as a giant countdown following you around.

Where it comes from

University is a time for professional development and gaining skills, connections and achievements; rather than it is to actually learn the degrees we’re pursuing. It makes it the perfect breeding ground for the ‘running out of time’ anxiety.

The stress to bulk up applications comes from competition; hundreds of people apply for one job or a place in an internship. There are always limited places and limited numbers that ‘anyone can be a part of!’ (but not everybody gets to, sorry). One person’s success usually means a lot of people’s failures. For some, failure at something means they can move on to the next thing. For others, it impacts their trajectory negatively.

Comparing ourselves to more successful people our age isn’t some major character flaw. While it is generally better for our mental health to not compare, everything about this market-oriented zeitgeist encourages comparison. Social media and businesses blast success stories everywhere all the time; they want us to look at better people and then get creative on bettering them. It exposes how space is limited, industries get overcrowded and how they move goalposts to keep people in a state of constant working and disappointment.

What can we do

We tend to brush all of this away under ‘fix your poor work-life balance’. Counselling definitely can help, but there’s only so much you can do yourself when the source of the problem is external. The running out of time fear is created in us by a system that wants more and more from us, and never gets satisfied.

However, there are things to do on a personal level. We can stop seeing others as competition that are out to get us. We can stop withholding knowledge from others and stepping on people to get to the ‘top’. In celebrating people’s successes we don’t have to become their fans or admirers. That lessens the sense of community and creates a divide, we fall into a trap of building inauthentic relationships based on buying and selling.

We are part of a community, rather than individuals barred off from consequence and responsibility. This system certainly won’t look out for us, so we can support people around us who are struggling and need help. One day we may be in a situation where we need support too.

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