How to actually enjoy your summer

The art of taking a break and not hating your life

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My first semester, I took astronomy for one reason and one reason only — it looked easy. Of course, you aren’t supposed to take a college class because it looks easy. You’re supposed to take one because it’s challenging or thought-provoking or will help you succeed. Science classes have never been my forte, however, and I was already worried about managing all the courses on my schedule. So — though I knew I’d be betraying the holy academic spirit — I took the easiest astronomy seminar I could find.

As it turned out, astronomy was fascinating and, as I expected, not particularly difficult. However, even though the class was exactly what I was hoping for, I started to feel anxious every time I entered the lecture hall. The more the pressures of college started to build, the more I feared I wasn’t in a difficult enough course. Somehow, by taking an easy science credit for one semester, I thought I would become unprepared for all future trials. I started to feel the weight of the “real world” bearing down on me. Adulthood was coming — and I wasn’t ready.

The idea that we are all going to be thrown into a maelstrom of jobs and taxes in a few years is a hard one to escape from. After all, the way education is structured makes us think in those terms. In middle school, we’re warned that high school is coming, and unless we study now we’ll be left behind. Then, in high school, we hear about how if we don’t take the hardest AP classes, we’ll never succeed in college. Now here we are at a prestigious university with the mythical adult realm finally hurtling towards us. And once again, we’re led to think our classes and choice of major will decide our destiny.

So, by taking astronomy, I felt like I was betraying my own future.

I think this idea of difficulty producing success is what makes summer internships so stressful. Just like with classes, it seems as if we should be undergoing the hardest internships possible. Adulthood will come rushing in soon, and unless we work hard now, we won’t stay afloat. At the same time, of course, this way of thinking makes it seem like our few remaining summer breaks will be the last breaks we ever have. And nobody wants to work during their time off. Just like with classes, however, we feel like if we aren’t working a difficult position we don’t enjoy, we’re not going to succeed in the future. Guilty thoughts plague our down-time, and these regretful feelings can quickly ruin our summers.

This summer, I’m writing articles for Preservation Virginia, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. So far, it’s been both fascinating and not particularly difficult work. Much like my astronomy class, however, I still feel like I’m a mistake. Even though I’m doing something interesting and gratifying, I’m still under the impression I should be doing something more taxing. I don’t have any of the interests or skills needed to become a doctor, yet multiple times over the summer I’ve thought about interning at a hospital. After all, shouldn’t I be putting challenge at the forefront? Shouldn’t I be pursuing the highest achievement I can, regardless of whether or not it makes me miserable?

Whenever I become overwhelmed by thoughts like these, I try to think back to astronomy. My first day of class, my professor said something which struck me as odd. 

“The universe isn’t going anywhere.” 

It seemed like a strange thing to say, because everything is going somewhere. In the larger sense, however, it’s true. The universe isn’t supposed to arrive at any particular destination. It doesn’t have a goal or a larger purpose.

That is different from how we think about college. Education is all about trying to get somewhere. Adulthood is coming and we have to be ready for it. In the same way that the end of summer is coming, and we feel pressured to cram as much into it as we can. But maybe we should take a page from the universe. So much of our anxiety over the summer and college comes from our fear of what’s to come. We think of success as pursuing challenging things, but maybe success is better defined as pursuing things we actually like. Summer internships don’t actually have to suck.

Comparing the universe to summer internships might seem silly. Still, I try to remind myself not to focus on the destination. It’s easy to spend so much time worrying about the end of summer that we forget about the moments we’re experiencing now. Moments where there’s nothing wrong with working at the job I’ve actually always wanted. And as for the future? I don’t see any reason not to do the same thing next summer.

Tom Pollard is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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