I am a born and bred busybody. You’d think that after a semester of grueling classes, I would relish the opportunity to relax come summer time. I did, but last summer I discovered that without having something that I need to do, my days start to meld together, leaving me feeling useless. Knowing this, I started my summer job hunt a couple of months ago, but it never occurred to me that I would end up where I am now: working three jobs and loving every minute of it.
If, like me, you tend to bite off a little more than you can chew, you learn to thrive on the urgency that comes with a deadline and ends in a rush of accomplishment. But have you ever had that feeling of anxiety when you don’t find yourself buried under the piles of notes you need to frantically study before the test on Friday?
“In a world where we’re taught so early that downtime is not okay, we internalize the ‘shoulds’—‘I should be doing something’,” said Debra Weiss, a licensed mental health advocate with the University of Florida. Suddenly finding a moment for yourself gets weirdly jarring at times, a feeling I found myself drowning in last summer. In short, I felt like I was going crazy.
It takes time to get better at allowing yourself to take breaks without guilt, something I still struggle with all the time. I still do feel the drive to work on something or be on a deadline most of the time though. So here’s how I happened upon three jobs this summer: College Magazine’s commitment of 15 hours a week somehow wasn’t quite enough to keep my mind occupied, so when a business woman contacted me to see if I’d be interested in helping her build an online publication for her company, I simply couldn’t say no. As it happened, the next week I received an email inquiring about my interest in working for a small business called Overland ATS. So by a series of happy accidents, and with help from my own neurotic need to keep busy, here I am.
My own desire and need to keep busy took time to discover. It still takes a lot of effort and honest reflection to manage too, and to this day I don’t always get it right. I used to oscillate between feeling incredibly burnt out and ridiculously bored because I would take large chunks of time off between semesters. I’ve gotten better about achieving a healthy balance with my commitments, but I do still find myself becoming burnt out at times, a feeling I am constantly on the lookout.
It takes time to find a balance between work and relaxation. “Any mental health benefit comes from listening to what you need as an individual,” Weiss said. “Striving for achieving a balance breeds longevity. Lack of balance impacts longevity. In whatever format, part of it is finding what balance means for you.” My form of balance happens to require a lot of structure, but I still need to check in with myself every now and then to ensure I’m not pushing myself too hard (something I unfortunately tend to do).
The environment college life breeds tells us constantly that we should be achieving something. We should be doing something productive. We should be working towards a goal all the time. “It’s really important to recognize when we are shitting all over ourselves,” said Weiss. “When you start to feel guilty [for taking time off], you need to take a step back and figure out where that ‘should’ is coming from. What happens over time is it starts to sound like your own voice but it doesn’t usually start that way. We use ‘shoulds’ to beat ourselves up.”
As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Having goals helps us to feel purpose and accomplishment, but finding time to catch your breath when you need to gets undervalued. Whatever form your balance comes in, it may require adjustment from time to time, and that’s okay. The important thing is to keep from beating yourself up over what you need and to be honest about those needs.
It took me until the summer before my senior year to find my balance. Three jobs certainly sounds like a lot, but the way they’re scheduled works for me (most of the time). “In those [burnt out] moments it’s really important to reflect. That could involve exploring what it is that makes you feel burnt out,” Weiss said. “Ask yourself, ‘Is there anywhere that I can trim out some things that make me feel overwhelmed and stressed?’ Maybe it’s about setting some boundaries with jobs and friends and then reaching out for support.”
Take the time to reflect this summer. Feeling pressure to live in a constant state of achievement comes naturally in college, but weeding out those other voices and really listening to what you need can make all of the difference.