Ah, summer: a mystical, romanticized period of time during which anything and everything is possible. Some people experience summer flings a la “Grease” or “Camp Rock,” while others simply wither away on the couch, blissfully comatose beneath a mountain of Doritos. Travels are taken, barbeques are held, and sunburns are endured.
But for many of us busy college students, the luxury of lazing around isn’t necessarily an option. We’re pseudo-adults lurking on the fringes of the real adult world, so the expectation is we work extra hard to compensate for our inadequacy. In contrast to the free and endless days of childhood summers, every passing minute during vacation now feels like a minute lost. The pressure to be productive suddenly looms over the horizon, a weight constantly carried until we’re worse for wear.
When it comes to summer activities, university students are usually presented with several possibilities. For the classic college-kid-who-goes-home-for-the-summer look, sporting a part-time job or internship is the general expectation. Summer session taken either locally or abroad is also an option, especially if a lighter class load during the year seems appealing.
Essentially, picking one of these routes guarantees a certain threshold of productivity will be met, since the student is pursuing further education, monetary increases, or work experience. If a student is lucky enough to score a cool position or diligent enough to take more classes, then they have the benefit of structure. Being productive is a much easier feat when there’s a set path to follow, after all. Consequently, that societally induced hunger to keep busy is much more easily fulfilled.
As for my experience, a combination of circumstances led me to some kind of in-between zone in terms of life structure. I was working, interning, and taking an online class simultaneously, yet by no means did I feel extraordinarily busy. Since my work and internship demanded so few hours, I still had quite a bit of free time, particularly nearing summer’s end. For about a month, I hovered between the thin margin of being productive and being lazy, a new kind of purgatory which felt unique to my age group.
I suppose there’s one simple question remaining, then: How are we supposed to make use of this time? Especially in that final stretch of September, during which I often feel like an insect wading in a pool of honey, utterly useless. Well, instead of viewing this lack of stimuli as a hindrance to my activity, I decided to see it as an opportunity. When in the near future will I have this much free time again? I can pursue whatever I desire on my own terms, a rarity during school life.
Since I’m a rather indecisive person, though, picking just one hobby to focus on was nigh impossible. I thought about reading piles of books, studying one of my target languages, taking loads of photos, editing on some new software, playing video games, as well as practicing writing in various styles. Because I set such a wide range of goals, I had to hit on at least a couple of them, right? That was my logic, anyway.
In order to corral my thinly spread ambition, I was forced to prioritize. Making a list of tasks from most to least important seemed to fit the bill, and the act of daily compartmentalizing soothed my restless brain. Even if the first item checked off on the list was “make a list of priorities,” I counted it as a win.
Though I couldn’t perform the superhuman task of accomplishing everything I wanted to, I didn’t do nothing either. At first, I felt dissatisfied by my inability to jumpstart a successful charity or discover a new periodic element by September’s end, unrealistic time limit be damned. All I had was a half-finished script and a stack of academic-esque books that yes, of course I would get to sometime soon. Spoiler alert: I didn’t get to reading those anytime ever. But just because Carl Jung and Virginia Woolf might be disappointed in my neglectful tendencies doesn’t mean I should be disappointed in myself.
Going into the new school year, it’s easy to feel like another summer has gone by without having accomplished anything of note. However, I found that listing out what I had completed disproved everything I thought about myself. Seeing the books I read, the places I went, the tasks I finished written out in full was all proof that I had lived as well as I could — evidence sitting right under my metaphorical nose.
Young people today can feel so easily discouraged when their own achievements don’t measure up to a certain standard, when they don’t “hit the grind” as hard as someone they know on Instagram. Summer productivity is another byproduct of modern workaholic culture, and I shouldn’t have put stock into the idea that throwing myself into a worker bee mentality would automatically make me happy.
College is founded on this idea of doing as much as possible; but sometimes, we all need a moment to breathe. That moment for me was the month of September, a tranquil chapter of my life which I spent without regrets.