The Constant Restlessness You Feel Has a Name
How heroic individualism perpetuates impossible expectations, and what you can do about it
Even before the pandemic, people were feeling that their work was unsustainable. Many were on the edge of burnout, overwhelmed by the unrelenting frantic and frenetic energy of today’s world. A common experience was, and still is, a mix of fatigue and restlessness, nervousness and dread. It is helpful to have language for what this is, how it works, and what you can do about it. That’s what I’ll cover below — in two parts.
The Problem: Heroic Individualism
Heroic individualism is an ongoing game of oneupmanship against both self and others, where measurable achievement is the main arbiter of success and self-worth, and where productivity often gets prioritized over people. Regardless of how far you make it, heroic individualism always moves the goalpost 10 yards down the field. You never quite arrive.
Heroic individualism says that you will never have enough, be enough, or do enough. It is an endless gauntlet of more. While it may lead to decent short-term performance, long-term, it is a recipe for disaster. This is because long-term fulfillment depends upon things that are inherently inefficient and unproductive, at least on acute timescales.
I’ve spent the last few years researching and reporting on heroic individualism. Here are some common signs that indicate you may be suffering from it:
- Low-level anxiety and a sensation of always being rushed or in a hurry — if not physically, then mentally.
- A sense that your life is swirling frenetic energy, as if you’re being pushed and pulled from one thing to the next.
- A recurring intuition that something isn’t quite right, but unsure what it is, let alone what to do about it.
- Not always wanting to be on, but struggling to turn it off and not feeling good when you do.
- Feeling too busy, but also restless when you have open time and space.
- Easily distractible and unable to focus; struggling to sit in silence without reaching for your phone.