The Art of Doing Nothing: Free Time Blues

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Hello, World.

As young professionals, we are used to going and going and going and rarely taking breaks. I recently finished my second year of law school and I have a bit of time between finishing the academic year and relocating for my summer internship. I am going home to California in August, so while many of my friends are traveling, I’m currently in my law school’s town just … hanging out. I was lamenting my boredom and lack of activities to my roommate and best law school friend, and she responded “you should do a blog post about this. How hard it is to go from being so overwhelmed with work to just doing nothing and how hard the transition is.” I couldn’t agree with her more, so here I am!

The first few days after a semester, I have a decompression period. I do very little “work” and tend to just lounge and sleep and recharge my batteries. This is normal and I do this at home with my family — everyone knows my first few days home are for rest and easy outings. Then, after my recharge period, we start doing more and I start getting back to “work” related things, whether that’s reading, blogging, etc. or starting an internship. This year, however, is my first May where I am not in California for my rest period or my post-rest period fun. Do I wish I was in California right now with my family? Absolutely. But financially and logistically, it wasn’t a good decision for me to go home. So, I’m in Virginia truly on my own with nothing to do (most my friends are visiting home or have relocated for the summer). It’s an odd feeling to wake up and know that you have to entertain yourself because there isn’t law school work to do (though this is coming, as I am on an executive board for a law journal and we have to grade competition entries for next years staff members). I’ve been reading a lot, which is great, and I’ve been planning out blog content, which is nice, but it’s hard to embrace the free time when roughly two weeks ago I was so overwhelmed and felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day to complete all that I needed to. It’s kind of funny because when I’m in school I have so many things I’d rather be doing or could think of doing. And yet… once the free time comes, I’m at a loss of how to handle it.

So, why do we have such a hard time adjusting to having free time? For starters, I think we are so used to feeling short on time that it’s almost more overwhelming to have so much time. When you’re a high-achieving person, you’re used to the “go” and don’t know how to embrace the “slow.” More and more I’m seeing self-proclaimed Type-A personalities taking a step back, trying to enjoy the quiet, and trying to take time to do things that bring them joy. When you’re in school full-time, while you can take time for those things, you still have a rigorous schedule you follow and deadlines and responsibilities that keep coming for you, even when you try to avoid them. When those things disappear, even for a brief two weeks before it all starts again, the reset button feels so foreign and jolting it’s hard to respond. But, the thing is, we should respond by reaching out, grabbing the free time, and embracing it like a long lost lover because the truth is, resetting is so so important.

Personally, I put so much pressure on myself and push myself so hard, that I often feel burned out and exhausted by the end of an academic year. Over the last two years, the burn out often results in me questioning if I’ve made a massive mistake with my life’s course. I don’t say this to imply I don’t want to be a lawyer. I do. But this is the thing: burn out makes you question things you wouldn’t otherwise question. It makes you feel like you’re making a mistake in some facet of your life when really you just need a nap. The way to avoid burn out? Revel in the moments where you can relax, where you can read a great novel, listen to a new album, watch that movie that makes you laugh. One of the reasons I didn’t want to go back to California now is because it’s a long trek, and I’m busy the whole time, and then I come back a bit jet-lagged in need of a vacation from my vacation. So, when my dad and I talked about it, we decided I’d go home in August and use this time to relax and get ready for my internship. Maybe that makes me sound weak, needing time for myself to recharge, but I think allowing yourself moments of calm brings more joy and less overwhelm (thank you, Hilary Rushford, for that tagline).

Outside of our persona of being young professionals, we’re all dealing with stuff. Whether it’s relationships, friendships, balance, body image issues, finding out someone you love isn’t well, trying to make time for people, trying to find yourself, etc., we’re all dealing with a lot that has absolutely nothing to do with our careers. That adds a layer of pressure and stress that makes being focused on a career that much harder. It also makes burn out more likely and it makes it more likely we will change our minds about certain things. Maybe that gym membership we thought we had time for, we don’t. Maybe that new relationship is not right for us. Maybe that friend who only seems to take and never seems to give needs to go. I don’t mean to say alone time, resetting time will bring you huge life changes, rather I mean the more you take breaks, allow yourself recharge periods, and the more you embrace the free time you have, the more you decrease the chances of burning out, of feeling overwhelmed, of feeling inadequate. For me, the more overwhelmed I am, the more I feel like it’s me that’s doing something wrong. Sure, this is something a therapist would likely have a field day with, but over the years I’ve learned that to avoid this feeling, I have to take time to myself. So, I take time to myself and I’m usually good at having alone time, but the last few weeks were a struggle. Maybe it’s too much alone time that was the change or knowing that I could be with my family instead of being here, but I think ultimately, this time is good for the soul.

I’m not sure if this post offered any advice, but I will say that I think there is a very real struggle when young professionals go from their “go” time to their “slow” time and I think it’s okay to recognize that free time is hard to adjust to. However, I think rather than fighting it or trying to occupy that time with work, it’s completely okay to embrace the slow. Go get your coffee and stroll downtown. Go shopping by yourself (this is oddly therapeutic, let me tell you!). Go read in the park. Watch the movie that’s been on your list for months. Buy yourself a bottle of wine and drink it on your porch in the sunshine. Being good at being alone is a hard thing, but the more you take time for yourself, the more you will have to offer others.

Callie leigh

Read This When You Feel Burned Out

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Hello, World.

I recently completed my second year of law school and while preparing for finals I felt an unparalleled sense of burn out. Studying was so difficult, finding motivation was a challenge, and I just felt so … burned out. I blame this, in part, on not having a true break since January. I went to California for spring break, but that was a busy trip and I didn’t rest as much as I normally do when home. So, I wanted to explore the concept of burn out a bit more. When motivation isn’t coming anymore, and when you’d rather just quit, and when you feel like there’s a constant weight on your shoulders that gets more and more difficult to bear, you’re probably burning out.

My mom called me a few months ago about an article she’d read that claimed that people who didn’t take time off before graduate school showed higher levels of burn out. I can’t say this conclusion was particularly surprising, but what was pertinent to this discussion was the encouragement to take time off. I think “time off” used to be, at least where I’m from, is a bit of a dirty phrase. When I think of taking time off I think of a season 5 and 6 Rory Gilmore having a major crisis and just about ruining her future by dropping out of Yale. However, what’s missing from the analysis of Rory’s choice was that she did what we should all do when our goals, aspirations, and dreams are no longer clear. She took a step back. She took a breath. Unlike the article my mom read, Lorelai Gilmore thought Rory taking a step back was the end of her life, a decision that she’d never recover from. To be honest, I think most viewers shared Lorelai’s view. However, two years into law school and a lot of frustration later, I think my view on “taking time off” has drastically changed. I no longer feel like taking a step back and figuring out what you want is a terrible thing. In fact, I think it’s probably the best thing you can do.

Though the burn out I’m discussing is related to academia, I think it’s important to take a step back anytime any aspect of your life isn’t clear or you don’t know what you want. The nice thing about academia, rather than working full time, is we have summer and scheduled breaks. While most of us still have internships and things to keep us busy on those breaks, I think they break up our routine enough that burn out is delayed, but still happens. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re burning out. We’re so focused on finishing task after task that we don’t stop to listen to ourselves. We should.

We should listen to ourselves, be honest with others, and take a step back when we need a moment, a breath. The world is so loud, especially with everything going on right now, and it seems everyone has a say in what we should be doing (and yes, I recognize in writing this post I’m also advising you, my readers, on what you should be doing). I think some of us, when we’re unsure, solicit such advice. I’m guilty of this. I often ask my friends their opinion, and if that doesn’t clear it up, I call my sister, and if I still don’t know (or simply haven’t gotten the answer I secretly want) I call my mom. I run through their advice, hoping to figure out what to do. Other times people offer up completely unsolicited advice, which is seldom helpful. BUT, and this is the big but, the voice I should listen to is my own. I should trust myself, trust that even if I make a decision and it’s wrong or a mistake, its a decision that I have agency over and I can deal with on my own, away from conflicting advice and opinions and people who are not me.

If you’re feeling burned out, that’s normal. Burn out is, in many ways, inevitable. However, if you’re feeling yourself getting there, take a moment for yourself. Leave the books in the library and go to yoga. Leave the paper on the table and go for a run. Go to a used bookstore and browse. Go to the record store. Go do something completely unrelated to what is making you feel burned out and enjoy being in that moment. Remembering that you are in control of your life is hard at times, especially with so many voices contributing to the chorus of your life, but what is important is you. So, the next time you feel burn out stirring in the halls of your being, listen to it and take a moment to be with yourself. Sometimes solitude is the only cure.

Callie leigh