A mixed media collage of a woman doom scrolling on her phone. Next to her phone is a screenshot of a happy couple posting on social media about moving to a new house. The collage is set on a pink backdrop and behind the woman's head is a pale yellow, circular motif
While people are still coping with the grief and trauma of 2021, asking them for their "achievements" is plain insensitive. Photos courtesy: Pexels


The Problem With Asking People What They Have Achieved in 2021

'By the middle of the year, India was enveloped in inexplicable grief.'

It is that time of the year again. Social media is rife with the same question: “What have you achieved in 2021?”

“I started my own business this year.”

“Bought a new house.”

“I lost 40kgs.”

Every December we see the same question and answers make rounds, and have us reflecting on the year gone by, looking at our highs and lows and charting ways for the next year to be better. But, let’s be honest, this is social media — where everything becomes a competition or a flex and the grander your achievements, the bigger the praise. Young people boasting about how hard they ‘hustled,’ people talking about the excessive hours they spent at work ignoring their personal lives and this ‘grind culture’ is rewarded and glorified by the society at large. 

But at what point do we pause and look at what we are celebrating?

2021 was one of the worst years for India in recent history, with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic seeing the death of over 200,000 people — a number which experts believe is a severe underestimation. By the middle of 2021, India was enveloped in inexplicable grief with ever rising medical costs, shortages of hospital beds and oxygen, black markets cropping up for necessary medication and people scrambling (and many failing) to save their loved ones, most of which I witnessed first hand.

Amidst this colossal tragedy, how are we expecting people to thrive in their careers? To start new companies in a crashing economy? To climb up their career ladders while dealing with the loss of parents and siblings? To put on a smile during team meetings? Is our memory so short that we don’t remember that just six months ago Twitter was filled with requests for oxygen and medicines and money, all of us desperately looking for any help to save the people closest to us?

“You made it out of this painful, difficult year and that is achievement enough.”

Research shows that social media, especially comparisons, is detrimental to mental health. Social media only shows the rosiest and most attractive parts of people’s lives, a system rigged to fuel competition and aspiration without concern for its impact on societal well-being. It is common for people to feel inadequate or think their lives are obsolete while seeing others thrive online and the “What have you achieved this year?” question is no different. But most people with shinier achievements also come from social realities where they have richer, more robust financial and social support, but these realities rarely make it to their timelines.

The ability to pick and choose which parts of your life you want to show the world also means you are concealing the parts of your lives and yourself that aren’t pretty but are real, honest struggles you’ve made it out of. 

Which is why it is important to celebrate things that actually matter this year. Did you take time off to manage your mental health? Did you manage to do something kind for yourself despite all the grief that was thrown your way? All of these are achievements, curveballs that you weren’t prepared to face but still did and came out shining. Your achievements don’t have to be tangential or monetarily beneficial or stick to any imaginary expectations that society has set, especially not this year, for you to celebrate them. You made it out of this painful, difficult year and that is achievement enough.

Also read: Why Grind Culture and Perfectionism Are Toxic, Ableist Concepts


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The Problem With Asking People What They Have Achieved in 2021