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.

Truly,
Callie leigh

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