Throughout my childhood, after Christmas was over and the calendar read Jan. 1, the cheer of the holiday season still persisted for weeks. The tree stayed lit, the decorations remained in place and a blanket of white still covered our once-green yard. The only worry I had was that soon the holiday movies were going to stop playing on TV.
However, now that I am nearly halfway through college, my concerns extend far beyond the next week in my horizon. Jan. 1 now signals the sharp end of the holiday season and it leaves me with one dreadful question — what am I going to do this summer?
Because the University is full of driven students who strive to place themselves in the best positions for their post-college careers, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that we must constantly be achieving impressive feats in order to boost our resumes. One aspect employers inevitably focus on while hiring is how applicants spent their three-month breaks between each year of college.
Did he intern at one of the top three management consulting firms in D.C.? Did he travel to Tanzania to volunteer at an underprivileged elementary school? Did she stay in Charlottesville to complete an extra 18 credit hours? Did she study abroad in Lyon to achieve fluency in French?
Employers see summer breaks as opportunities for college students to prove themselves, to display what they’re passionate about and what they choose to accomplish during a sabbatical from tiresome student life.
The University encourages us to make the most of our time off. Ironically, as I was writing this, I received an email from the Career Center with the subject line “Design Your Professional Summer Experience!” Even those words cause my body to instinctively tense up with stress.
Over winter break, while trying to put all serious academic-related topics aside, I found myself at my cousin’s cocktail party in New York. Being that my cousin is about 10 years older than me, the party was filled with young urban professionals who have now all been active members of the workforce for years. Naturally, because they were speaking to a college student, everyone’s first immediate question posed to me was, “What are you studying?” followed by “And what are you going to do this summer?” Of course, I had no answer for either question.
After an hour of awkwardly responding to questions I didn’t want to answer with, “Um, I’m not really sure yet,” I began talking to a guy who presented me with an alternative perspective. Before he could ask me about my career aspirations, I turned the tables on him and asked what he does for a living.
To my surprise, he laughed and said, “That’s a loaded question. I still don’t know what I want to do, and I’m 35 years old.”
Sensing my relief to his response, he followed with, “You shouldn’t worry about it either. I’ve worked in finance, for a law firm and now I have a position at a consulting firm that specializes in security emergencies for large corporations. And it definitely won’t be my last job. I live well and enjoy what I do, but I try not to stress too much.”
When I shared how reassured this made me feel because I was stressing about how to spend my next summer, he told me, “Do something fun. You’ll probably be sitting behind a desk in a suit for the rest of your life. Do something that you want to do while you still can.”
I took that advice to heart and decided to change my outlook on my approaching summer. Rather than stressing about what will look best on my resume during the summer between my second and third year at the University, I decided to do what is best for me. I applied to a variety of positions, from internships that interest me to fun jobs at the beach to international studying opportunities.
Whatever I choose to do, I’m going to keep in mind that no single summer is going to make or break my career aspirations. With that, I submitted all of my applications and flipped the lights on my Christmas tree back on, with the hopes of holding onto the holiday season as long as possible.