The Case Against Optimization in Isolation

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Grace Fiori

“It felt like immediately after social distancing measures were enacted, just about every influencer jumped on the internet and told you in a pixelated Instagram Live that this is the time for you to work on you, that this is the time to reach your Maximal Optimal Potential.”

Grace Fiori, Chief Editor

Currently, within the United States, we are battling to mitigate the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. As social distancing measures become increasingly strict, people find themselves homebound as a means to lower interaction and slow the transmission of the virus. This decision is necessary and crucial, but ultimately, many of us feel trapped; experiencing increased pressure as job security is threatened, courses are postponed, and the 10 a.m. conference call you were supposed to dial into just won’t connect. We feel helpless as we watch desperate and vulnerable healthcare workers plead for aid on the nightly news and cabin fever sets in as we are no longer able to continue with our regular way of life. 

However, social media also seems to be placing arbitrary pressure on people, advising ways to peak productivity, get fit, and accomplish all your dreams while isolated. It felt like immediately after social distancing measures were enacted, just about every influencer jumped on the internet and told you in a pixelated Instagram Live that this is the time for you to work on you, that this is the time to reach your Maximal Optimal Potential.

Many were quick to note that not only is self-actualization not achieved through fourteen days of isolation, but it is also okay to not seek to achieve it, especially in a time of great uncertainty. As frenetic energy seems to permeate every aspect of our life right now, why do we also feel the same need to apply it to our lifestyles and goals? What if I don’t want to seize hold of my potential?

I think many of us are finding moderation to be evasive, and are struggling to find the balance in our emotions and productivity. Perhaps because so many of us find ourselves operating on the edge of burn- out in everyday life. Perhaps because in reality, moderation is as nonexistent (and at the end of the day, arbitrary) as perfection, and its occasional absence doesn’t make life any less enjoyable, just a little more human. 

I advocate that now is not the time for optimization. Now is the time for maintaining connections, reaching out to friends and family. Entertaining your interests and hobbies. Keeping yourself sustained with content that challenges your perspective and interests you. It means reading a new book, starting a project, going for walks. It means baking too many loaves of bread. Maybe it even means picking up meditation. But it doesn’t have to feel like some race to the finish line. It doesn’t have to be broken down into a 10-step plan. Perhaps now is the time to write your novel, if that is your thing, but does it have to be a New York Times bestseller? Of course not, because it was something created and completed for yourself and not for someone else’s concept of success.