Feeling burnt out? Lessons from Latino culture on the politics of rest

guest column

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” — Mary Oliver, The Summer Day 

“How do you want me to live?” I asked my grandparents over FaceTime the other day.

“It's a system of values,” they told me. “Do you want to make money, or do you want to have enough time to smell the flowers?”

As students, the question of how to live feels unavoidable. Do we choose passion or success? When “success” is defined in very limited terms, it's easy to feel like your self-worth is determined by your resume of accomplishments. You push yourself for a goal that feels handed to you, all to burn out. Then you fall into a cycle of working and falling apart and working harder to recover. 

We cannot continue like this. We must pursue a relationship with time that prioritizes passion and rest. For this, we have a lot to learn from Latino culture. 

My grandparents were part of the 1960s counterculture movement in New York before moving back to Colombia. "We felt for many years how important it was to [live] slowly," my grandparents tell me, reflecting how Latinos embrace interrelational passion and slow living. In my grandparents’ Colombia, time is fluid. They sleep in, savor food and show up late to events. “If we didn't do this today, oh well, we’ll do it tomorrow,” my grandparents tell me. They don’t worry about constantly moving toward the next thing. They embrace rest and are able to live soulfully. 

I observed this from them growing up, but it feels like I've moved far from their roots. As a student and activist, I often praise “hard work.” I work hard to be a part of systemic change. Yet, I am painfully aware of the way my eagerness to work is revealing my fractured relationship with time. All around me, I see people overworking themselves for a system that demands energy without intentionality. I realize that I too am part of the problem. 

I get why we frantically rush from one moment to the next, fueled by adrenaline, glorifying the grind. Our reaction to the fleetingness of our lives is to treat time as a precious resource, saving  and maximizing it as we do with money. We lose touch of the purpose of such a reaction — to share the best life while we can. 

Redefining time starts by understanding that this treatment of time is a constructed and severely flawed tenet of American capitalism. Capitalism is fueled by trust in the rewards of an investment through time, and the commodification of time for productive accumulation of capital. Treating time rigidly and linearly is therefore essential for the continuity of capitalist production. 

This treatment of time is not universal. In fact, international scholars have identified two cultural approaches to time: monochronism and polychronism. Western capitalist time is monochronic. In other regions, mainly Latin America and the Middle East, time is polychronic. Polychronism embraces fluidity, cyclicality and community. You balance the needs of family and friends and negotiate time interpersonally. 

Monochronic time has us believe there is only one pathway towards the future. This means dominant narratives — such as what constitutes an idealized post-grad career — take over from the plurality (“poly”) of possible futures we could hold (passion!). Monochronism is also problematic because it neglects that there have already been apocalypses of other worlds — oppressive actions have “pruned” the possible futures of the oppressed. 

We have been conditioned to believe, in a mathematical sense, that Time - Work = Rest. Work becomes the default while resting becomes a sacrifice of efficiency. My grandma shows me another path. She tells me how she’d walk to work instead of taking the subway. Some days it would rain, and she’d arrive drenched. But this made her happy and helped her resist the urge to fill time with something more “productive.” Not a break from work, but an embrace of passion outside any capitalist framework. This is rest for my grandmother. 

If you really think about it, the only choice we have is rest. To avoid burnout, be happy and build communities that care for each other, we cannot choose between success and passion, or work and rest. We are not here to generate the most value by taking advantage of the way the world works. If we continue to believe this, our grind culture will never end. 

Rest is a way of welcoming imagination and boredom (remember that?!). It is a practice of detaching your emotional health from the labor you do. “Not limited to the bed and its reclinations, rest is also playfulness, the reach for pleasure … outside of and away from the commodification of our bodies,” Colombian poet and scholar Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes wrote. 

Importantly, rest cannot be a fetishization of irresponsibility. It is absolutely not a call for passivity. “Rest is a cultivated absence…it is not escape or luxury or relinquishing political life and accountability to the world,” Rhodes affirmed. I fiercely believe we can rest slowly while upholding urgency for issues that demand action. 

My grandparents tell me the counterculture movement was “less imaginative as it was resurrection.” They were not protesting for an impossible future, but for buried and devalued ways of living that still exist around the world. Rest, too, we must resurrect. “We don’t have to be burned out, sleep-deprived, painfully exhausted” to resurrect rest. We must drink not only when parched. 

Rest can be unsettling. I remember my frustration when my grandparents would tell me to “eat slowly.” “¿Por qué comes tan rápido? No hay prisa,” they’d remind me. Little Luna was already tired of waiting. She wanted to finish eating and go paint. She wanted to finish high school and go to college. She wanted to finish being a kid and do important things. Convincing ourselves to rest is challenging, especially when our surroundings or internalized beliefs make the cost of rest too high to pay. It is also frustrating to pick apart true communal rest from the commodified, individualized and privatized self-care we increasingly see as companies co-opt the societal importance of passionate relaxation. But rest is not a privilege; it is a necessary right. 

During my FaceTime, my grandparents would stop to quibble or correct each other or laugh about something the other said. They’d go off on tangents, and I'd look at the clock and stress about how an hour and a half had passed and how hard this would all be to transcribe. 

And I’m left thinking about how far I have to go — how far we all have to go — to truly embrace a relationship with time that allows us to heal.

Luna Abadía is a Trinity first-year.


Share and discuss “Feeling burnt out? Lessons from Latino culture on the politics of rest ” on social media.