Doing the most comes naturally to me. At school and at work, I always try to do 110%. I always, always try to squeeze every last drop of productivity out of my time and to achieve as much as I possibly can. When I look at those around me and feel intimidated by the amazing things they achieve every day, I can silence my fears by knuckling down and working harder. If I have any nagging doubts about the way I spend my life, I can usually quiet them simply by trying harder, reaching farther and stretching towards the next big thing.
I always seem to struggle to find something satisfactory to do with my summer. During the school year, schoolwork comes down a clearly defined pipeline, and success feels as simple as checking all the boxes and keeping my GPA as high as I can. During the summer, though, everything seems much hazier. I can’t find a hamster wheel to mindlessly run in, so I stress endlessly about how to spend my time.
On one hand, the possibilities seem limitless. I could have a summer job, working at a store or a restaurant and learning valuable lessons about life as well as the way the world works. I could take the time to travel, seeing new places and exciting new things and perhaps picking up a fresh dose of perspective. I could engage deeply with one of my hobbies and maybe create something truly unique and special. I could even just savor getting the space and time to do nothing, a gift that the world otherwise never seems to grant.
On the other hand, I feel incredibly constrained by my worries and fears. My anxious mind can always find a reason not to do whatever it is I find myself gravitate towards. I would enjoy spending time traveling or working on a hobby, of course, but I can’t stop wondering whether I could find a better way to set myself up for success later on. On the professional side, a summer job, especially an internship, would give me exactly the career skills (and money) that I want so desperately. However, could that kind of position just set me up for the same kind of grind that I put myself through during the school year?
In reality, I constantly make choices just like the ones I fret over at the beginning of every summer. I enjoy some free time every day during the school year, and I could make how I spend those small chunks of time into as much of a puzzle as how I spend my summer. Because summer break feels like such a monolith, it seems like a big decision I have to make all at once – it feels much larger and much scarier to me.
So what now?
Life’s problems can sometimes solve themselves in ways we don’t anticipate. This current summer break marks the beginning of the end of my college experience, and I may never have another three-month chunk of unstructured time to worry about how to spend. I could imagine that sense of finality giving me terrible anxiety, but I find the opposite.
Perhaps ironically, the realization that I’ll never take another break like this gave me a new understanding of how little the way that I spend it matters in the long run. I doubt that any 70-year-old, looking back on a life well spent, dwells long on what they did during their college summer breaks. Even if I could literally be the perfect student and the ideal careerist, I couldn’t find my dream job this summer – they tend not to hire for three-month stints. Even if I turned into the adventurous and enthusiastic person I dream of becoming, I doubt I could go on a wondrous voyage of self-discovery in some magical international destination; I just don’t have the cash. Instead, I just need to focus on the opportunities I do enjoy and the meaning I can find. After all, thinking all day about the things you don’t have would make anyone unhappy.