The end of semester is a funny thing. You go from a submerged state of pressure and anxiety to a sort of sudden, shocking, tranquility.
Once exams are over, you can find yourself with a lot of freedom on your hands. Now this freedom is certainly not unwelcome! But if you’re not careful with your time, a new kind of anxiety can take over. And this anxiety is worse than the academic variety, because it can leave you feeling lost, without a sense of purpose.
The Fine Line between Relaxation and Boredom
You can only sit on the couch and bask in Madmen and pudding for so long. Eventually you’ll find yourself missing, not exams per say, but the sense of momentum and productivity that defined your life during those last few weeks.
Boredom is one of the most uncomfortable feelings in the world, especially for those of us with scanner personalities. We’re wired to want to create, explore and embark on new adventures. It’s so inherent to our nature, that we almost have no choice in the matter.
This means that relaxation can quickly morph into agonizing pain if you’re not careful. While others may be perfectly content lying on a beach for days on end, it’s amazing how this kind of ‘leisurely activity’ can quickly make us multipotentialites lose our minds.
Freedom Alone is Not the Goal
In The ‘Undeclared for Life’ Manifesto, I wrote about the idea of structuring your life in a way that leaves you free time to pursue your interests. I also stressed the absolute necessity of defining what those interests are (though they can, of course, change and evolve over time).
Freedom alone won’t make you happy. What will make you happy is using that freedom in a deliberate way to do what you love.
Vacation is the Perfect time for Goal-Setting
I have a challenge for you. This post-exam/holiday season, don’t go home and collapse on your couch. Instead, pull out a pen and paper and make a list of activities that are meaningful to you. Include those interests that you’ve been hoping to explore, but haven’t yet found the time for.
Hopefully you’ve gotten into the habit of jotting down thoughts in your notebook and can simply flip back for ideas. But either way, conduct a little brainstorming session and then take some small action steps immediately.
You can take breaks between spurts of productivity to veg out on the couch a bit, but if possible, do not give yourself too much (or any) down time at the get-go.
Remember that things in motion tend to stay in motion and the opposite is equally true. The longer you wait to begin, the harder it will be to pull yourself out of the slump. The Resistance Monster will attack and fight to keep you in a zone of safety, comfort and passivity.
This is Good Practice for ‘Real Life’
Trust me, you want to get into the habit of doing this now, because one day you will graduate and then you’ll have nothing but freedom. If you don’t learn to structure your time around your passions, you will end up feeling completely lost come graduation.
What’s worse is you’ll begin to accept whatever comes your way simply in order to squash those feelings of boredom and uncertainty. A lack of reflection and deliberate planning is a major reason that people end up with unsatisfying careers. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll take whatever you can get.
Note: As a very recent graduate myself, I wanted to write this post specifically for students. However, this stuff applies to anyone who is taking time out from their normal routine, be it school, work, whatever.
I also encourage goal setting at any time of the year, vacation just happens to be a particularly opportune moment because you can take advantage of your new found freedom.
What meaningful activities are you going to schedule into your life to replace your time of otherwise passive consumption and sleep?
Finally, to those of you in exams right now, good luck! My heart goes out to you.