A brief history of the last 4 years:
- Girl goes to college. Has worked hard all through high school to get straight As. Is wondering how much harder college will be. (WAY harder.)
- Girl doesn’t like college. She takes classes every summer hoping to get out as fast as she can. Sometimes she can do school and work at the same time. Sometimes she can’t.
- One summer Girl has an internship from hell. A job that rocks her mentally and physically (but not in a good way); a job that works her to the bone. She quits, seriously considers dropping out of school, too (for the millionth time), but doesn’t.
- Girl makes it through her 3rd and final year of college, relieved and overwhelmingly thankful she won’t be coming back for a 4th. She had had a hard time, this year especially, but who doesn’t in college?
- Girl works another (better) internship all summer while finishing up 3 courses for her management degree. In August, she graduates. Then she gets to work as a copywriter.
That’s the story I play in my head when I try to figure out why I haven’t really been working the past 2 months. I must be burnt out. Poor me, right?
Seeing it on paper now, I cringe at my “pity me” attitude and think about all the kids who worked harder than I did: the kids who had to pay their own way through college; the ones who can’t take 2 months off work just because they’re tired; the ones who aren’t bitching about any of it in a blog post.
While I admit to myself that I might be burnt out from 10 years of nonstop “playing the game” (and playing it hard) and that I’ve never really had a summer, I recognize that I’m nothing special–tons of people have worked harder than me and have had more hardships than I’ve had and yet haven’t bitched a damn word about it.
But That Wasn’t The Question, Was It?
The question was: where the hell have I been?
I’ve been getting sick.
Minor ailments, thank god–but ones that have drained my energy, completely stripped my mental capacity for work, and have filled up my schedule with at least 1 doctor’s appointment each week. Sometimes 2 or 3. (Think my body is trying to tell me something?)
I’ve been taking care of myself.
I’ve been listening to my body, which apparently won’t settle for anything less than 9-10 hours of sleep each night it has to continue weathering this minor health storm. Which begs me to put a pause on the running until we get this health sitch figured out. Which is asking me, “Can’t you just this once stop working for a bit to take care of yourself?”
I’ve been saying yes.
To friends and outings I used to turn down because “I’m too busy” and to getting a little bit drunk on a Tuesday night (and a Wednesday night, and a Thursday); to spending more time with my family. I’ve been saying yes to the beach, hour-long walks, to Shameless marathons and making more time for reading.
I’ve been asking questions.
Questions like, “When’s the last time you did something stupidly/extravagantly nice for yourself like buy a $100 bottle of scotch or go spend a weekend in the mountains?” (Check and check.) And, “Do I really want to work 40 hours a week? How can I spend more time doing the kind of writing I really want to be doing? How long can I afford to do this weird ‘break-from-life’ thing?”
I’ve been getting happy.
Despite watching my savings dwindle and my credit balance climb as I continue down this confusing, exciting, workless path, I know I’m doing the right thing. I’ve been feeling grateful that I can even afford to do the makeshift sabbatical-type thing I’m doing now.
And I realized something.
I’m not crazy and I’m not being a baby.
Okay, maybe I am being a bit whiny when I bitch about how I’ve never really had a summer. Or being dramatic when I claim that never really having a summer and always working hard at school has me burnt out and has literally affected my health the past few months.
Maybe it is overly-“entitled” of me to want to spend some time doing exactly what I want to do and to want to be a kid again, if only for the summer.
But I look at my parents, I look at the social norm, I look at the baby boomers who scoff and push us to get that well-paying 9-5 just out of school and who dismiss our need for play/self discovery/just a pure and simple break from life as laziness, or as entitlement, and I wonder:
Have they ever stopped to think about what they really want to be doing? Have they ever hit pause and just lived for themselves for little while? And how can anyone really know who they are or what they want until they do?
Even If They Won’t, I Will
I’ve gotten over that–the judgment from my elders and the guilt at taking time off. If Eckhart Tolle can spend a year on a park bench people watching and pondering on human existence and doing literally nothing else, then I can too. Sure, my story looks a little bit different from the outside, but on the inside I’d say it’s essentially the same.
Just like kids in Europe are encouraged to take a gap year before college just to travel, be young, and learn about themselves, we should all take some time off to figure out if we’re really ready to live to work like our parents did. Or at least the space to say to ourselves “There’s got to be a better way,” and then time to figure out what that way might look like.
Whiny, entitled, lazy, corny, overly-sensitive–whatever negative feelings you have about this romantic notion of taking time for yourself, I encourage you to get over it. Like I did. Whatever guilt you have about taking a sabbatical, remember that those thoughts are not your own. They’re your parents’, your teachers’, your peers’. (And it’s not their fault either. We’re all just doing our best.)
I won’t pretend this is doable for everyone. It’s not. But I urge you–if you can afford to take a break like this, you should. I can’t encourage it enough. Have a summer. Have a staycation. Work on a hobby and spend some time really, really thinking about what you want to be doing.
I can’t tell you when I’ll be back. I’m keeping up with a minimal amount of client work, but I’m working as little as possible while I figure some of this health stuff out. After I finish the next month of treatment (it sounds serious but it’s not, I promise!) or after one of my best friend’s wedding in a couple weeks, I could be ready, but who knows?
In the meantime, I’ll be playing drunken Just Dance with friends, making a giant, veiny penis cake with my mom for my best friend’s bachelorette party, and having a summer.