Summer brings refreshment

Two weeks left and counting. As I write this, I am procrastinating. The cure to writer’s block is the procrastination of my other responsibilities. As of right now, I am avoiding eye contact with four papers, a presentation, one major final project and miscellaneous odds and ends that go hand in hand with the end of the year. I should be stressed, but instead I feel a sense of blissful nirvana. Two more weeks until the end of the most challenging, and the most rewarding, year of my life.

For many of us, the summer brings with it almost as much, if not more, responsibility than the standard load we carry the rest of the school year. The part-time job becomes a full-time job. Three-hour weekly classes become three-hour daily summer courses. Gone are the childhood dog days of summer stretching out ahead of us in an endless day of sun and sweltering heat and absolutely no responsibilities. Sometimes I find myself daydreaming about that time of innocence and blissful ignorance of the “real world” and its hefty weight, for which everyone anticipates but no one is fully prepared.

Sure, I daydream sometimes. But I have finally reached the point of no return, when I realize that I would no longer know how to, nor do I desire to, function at that level of weightless freedom. The reality is that I have outgrown the majority of the hobbies that used to fill my free time. When faced with free time, the last thing I want to do is labor over a DIY project or concoct some all-natural whipped body lotion, courtesy of Pinterest. Instead, I focus on more constructive activities, like sleep.

I prefer to think I have simply taken on the realism of an adult, but I harbor a sneaking suspicion that I may have forgotten how to have fun. When faced with the standard “what are your hobbies?” ice breaker, I find it increasingly more difficult to produce some excuse for an extracurricular. Does eating food classify as a hobby?

How do we define the blurred line between high achievers and workaholics?  Based on research conducted by the Gallop Business Journal, the innumerable factors that impact a person’s work-life balance can be summed into the five forms of well-being: career, social, physical, financial and community. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to success. One person’s concept of success may be devoting hours every day to his passion for badminton. To another, happiness is pursuing that education in nuclear engineering. The main idea is that happiness is the determining factor for success.

What about those of us who are willing to sacrifice some immediate happiness in order to reach a more long-term goal? We work the weekends and scoff with disdain (and maybe a little guilt) at the Hallmark movies spotlighting career-driven characters that discover happiness in Smalltown, U.S.A. As outlined by The Washington Post’s Brigid Schult, our busyness was even considered one of Catholicism’s seven deadly sins during the Middle Ages. Could this be the next great “my dog ate my homework” excuse?

While we may disregard the values of the Middle Ages, the necessity for balance in our lives is backed by sound research. Neuroscience researcher Mark Beeman suggests investing time in mental breaks as a sound investment in one’s quality of work. His studies have shown that 60 percent of our greatest ideas are born during free time, as opposed to those late-night brainstorming sessions. We allow our minds to settle, focusing not on school, work or even household chores. Our brains have time to rejuvenate, our creative capacities are revived and we are able to return to our work refreshed. He calls these the “aha moments.”

This brings us to summer. One long, extended mental break. Are you going to choose to take advantage of the mental timeout? As students, we long to throw off our responsibilities and return to carefree kids. As adults seeking to break into the fiercely competitive career field, we feel the urgency to find internships or co-ops while earning money to pay the rent and put food on the TV dinner tray.

We have been swept up in the torrent of success and ambition. We need the summer to become grounded again, to remind ourselves of the finer things in life. Things like time to spare spent with people who don’t define us by what we’ve accomplished or where our careers will take us. Regardless of your goals, regardless of your budget or your priorities, leave some time for yourself this summer. No one ever remembers the wealth they accumulated or the rewards they received for pushing themselves past the breaking point. But you will always remember the times spent doing what you love with those who love you.