Do I do schoolwork or become awesome?
May 2, 2007 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Should I spend my summer in school or becoming awesome?

I took about a year off from college and have been planning to take classes this summer to help make up for the missed work. However, in the past month I've been considering how nice it would be to devote that time to other things. I haven't had a completely free summer (no classes, no full-time job, no planned activities) since, well, I don't remember. Not even during high school. Even spring and winter breaks have been complicated by school work or job responsibilities. Next summer I'll need to get an internship, and the summer after that I'll need to get a job after graduating.

I have always wanted to take time off to become awesome. It feels like this is my best chance to do so. Basically, I'd like to spend the time working out a lot to get in tip-top physical shape. I know this wouldn't take all day--perfect, because there would be plenty of time left over to read, learn to play a musical instrument, learn to cook, and do all of those hobbies that I never get to do while in school because I'm too busy.

But if I took this time off, I would definitely be in school for at least another semester. It feels terribly irresponsible to pull something like this. Also, I've never been that great at planning my time so there's no assurance that I would be spending my non-workout time actually on these productive hobbies rather than sitting around doing nothing. Do you have advice? Have any MeFites done something similar?
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (44 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I know lots of people who started with your plan, but ended up doing a lot of drinking, and smoking a lot of pot.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 7:47 AM on May 2, 2007

If you can afford it, do it. Life is too damn short.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:50 AM on May 2, 2007

Your sense of responsiblility borders on the irresponsible. Take the summer off by all means, but spend it sailing and drinking beer, or sitting around doing nothing.
posted by kmennie at 7:52 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

When you say "get in tip-top" physical shape, what exactly do you mean? Are you overweight and want to lose some pounds? Or are you interested in looking like a movie star/bodybuilder? And if it it's the latter, might you feel bad at the point when you have to go back to your normal life and normal body? Just a thought.

If you do go for it, make sure to work out your lower half, too. I see plenty of guys at the gym with barrel chests and arms as big as my waist with scrawny little chicken legs. They look silly. Balance, my friend, balance.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:58 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Life is long--an extra semester of school will seem like nothing in no time at all.

That said, some people (I'm one) do poorly with completely unstructured time. When I have a big block of time like that and am thinking, "At last! I'll re-read all of Jane Austen, write my novel, and learn to make fabulous chocolates from scratch!" I will end up lounging around, unshowered, watching Law & Order 12 hours a day. I do best if I have some small "seed" of structure--something that makes me get up and out at a certain time. It might be an exercise class, a very part-time job, or a set appointment with friends, but I need something. I'm just mentioning it in case you're the same sort of person, so you can perhaps plan for it without having to learn the hard way, by wasting your summer.
posted by not that girl at 7:58 AM on May 2, 2007 [5 favorites]

Or you could go to summer school and work out a lot. I was in pretty damn good shape when I was taking a full course load in college, running about 20 miles/week and riding about 150 miles/week.

Psychologically, I think it's easier to keep to a schedule (eg, for working out) when you are forced to keep to a schedule (eg, by taking classes). Maybe that's just me.
posted by adamrice at 8:01 AM on May 2, 2007

Dude, no question, GET AWESOME!
posted by The Straightener at 8:04 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know whether you're like me, but I usually find that I'm actually more likely to find time for my hobbies when I have scheduled activities like classes or work to plan them around. If I have absolutely nothing to do all day, I'll spend the day watching TV and doing nothing. But if I have a class first thing in the morning and then a part time job in the late afternoon, I'll go to class, go to the gym, have lunch, study for a while, go to work, cook a nice dinner for some friends, and then come home and read a book for a while before bed. The point is that having those scheduled activities provides my day with the structure I need to allow me to schedule the unstructured activities I want to get done.

I'd compromise: take one or two classes instead of a full load, and pick one or two of the activities you really want to get done. Devote yourself fully to, say, working out and learning to cook, and leave the music playing, reading the western canon, and all the rest for some other time. Don't bite off more than you can chew, but at the same time, give yourself enough obligations (classes you're required to attend, a job you're expected to show up for, etc.) that you can't just blow it all off and sit on the couch all day. At the very least, you won't realize at the end of the summer that you accomplished nothing, and at best, you'll be both in great physical shape and a few steps closer to graduating.
posted by decathecting at 8:05 AM on May 2, 2007

I specifically didn't do what you're planning - always had summer jobs through high school, through university with summer filled with classes or co-op jobs, and right into the work force. When I moved jobs a few years back, I had 10 days off between them.

Finally, last summer, at the age of 35, I took the summer off. I did basically nothing - lots of walking around, enjoying my city, catching up on books and movies, that sort of thing. And it was fantastic. Oh, and drinking, yes, the drinking.

I realized at the end of my time off that there really wasn't a reason not to do it every summer. I can afford the time off, my company is basically ok with it, and the sense of mental health that comes with it is invaluable. So I'm doing it again this summer, and plan on doing it as long as I can.

None of this answers your question directly, but you may not be in a position professionally or financially to just take extended time and be yourself (or someone else, if you so choose) for a few years. So to parrot a couple of others: if you can afford to do it, do it now. It makes more sense to me to take the time off while you're young than to do it when you're old.
posted by flipper at 8:06 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Unless you're going to be a teacher, the rest of your life is going to be filled with working summers. Please, take this time off while you've got the chance.

And I'll n-th what others have said about imposing some structure on your free days. It's sooo easy to "start tomorrow" on your grand ambitions, until the whole summer has been wasted away. Whether you decide to "become awesome" or just enjoy your time off, be intentional about it. Lounging in the sun doing nothing all day ON PURPOSE feels a million times better than lounging on the couch with the tv all day by accident, even though you're accomplishing seemingly equal amounts of nothing.
posted by vytae at 8:08 AM on May 2, 2007

"Do I become awesome?" Taking off a summer to work out? What, are you 12?

Dude, if you want to take a summer off, take the time off while you're young and can afford to. By all means, do things like learning to cook - it's not like it's not something useful.

Something about the 'become awesome = physical' and 'schoolwork isn't awesome' business is a little fishy though. Ideally study something you enjoy (i.e. the 'awesome' I'm thinking you're refering to?) - it shouldn't be a chore, or something you need a summer off to recover from.
posted by rmm at 8:14 AM on May 2, 2007

Compromise. Take a half load of summer school. Maybe 1 class a term? It'd be like 90 minutes of class, then maybe, at most, an extra 2 hours studying, which leaves you 21 hours of the day remaining.
posted by unexpected at 8:19 AM on May 2, 2007

All signs point to becoming awesome
posted by ob at 8:29 AM on May 2, 2007

The world is full of overeducated bozos like me, and there is a severe shortage of awesomeness. You must become awesome-- for your country. For your planet. For us all.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:39 AM on May 2, 2007 [4 favorites]

You're confusing "in shape" with "awesome." I think the most in shape guy I ever met was also not awesome at all, and I've known many people who were out of shape or even downright fat and were very awesome.

Given that you just spent a year fucking around and didn't become awesome, I'd get back to work.

I think even smoking pot and drinking beer all day would be a better idea. At least then you'd probably have some stories to tell afterwards.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:40 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Only take the awesomeness route if you are really going to make the most of it. Otherwise you'll feel like you wasted your time and money. Knowing that you'll have no more than a few weeks worth of vacation days a year once you start working is sooo depressing. Become awesome while you have the chance. If you really do become more awesome, it will have a ripple effect on your entire life. You'll meet interesting people, you'll get hotter dates, and your mental and physical health will improve.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:41 AM on May 2, 2007

Become awesome. But schedule a bit of the awesomeness in some way that forces you to become awesome.

Don't listen to any silly Americans telling you to work yourself to death. That's pretty much how we roll, and it sucks. Take time off, pick one or two things to focus on, and spend the rest of the time purposefully doing nothing.

posted by zhivota at 8:42 AM on May 2, 2007

If you intend to go ahead with Operation: Awesome!, I would recommend that you take some digital pictures at the start of your grand scheme and then post regular updates for us to monitor your progress from 98-pound weakling to Charles Atlas. Otherwise, as many have noted, you will lose any incentive to do anything other than schlep around all day in your underwear, playing World of Warcraft. Which is, of course, a completely viable alternative.

I view these kinds of plans from the deathbed perspective: when you're in your final moments, surrounded by your loved ones (possibly only a tribe of housecats), will you proudly say, "I got through school on time!" or instead recall fondly how you were briefly, for one totally bitchin' summer, awesome?
posted by Midnight Creeper at 8:43 AM on May 2, 2007

What's stopped you from working on your awesomeness for an hour per day all this time? Do all of it. Busy people get more done. If necessary, take a lighter load of schoolwork.

A bit of advice: All committments can be trying or stressful at times, but try not to look at school, work, etc. as booo! the evil stuff that keeps you from having a life. It's part of your life. On the other hand, there's no need to obsess and make school/work your entire life. Get in there and get your work done so that you can clear your mind and do things you enjoy when you're not at school/work.

Also, I've never been that great at planning my time so there's no assurance that I would be spending my non-workout time actually on these productive hobbies rather than sitting around doing nothing.

You've already learned that you're not good with planning your time, so you think that opening up a bigger window of time will help you schedule yourself productively? Imagine this: Set up a blog explaining exactly what you have accomplished each day in your Summer Of Getting Awesome. Post it to Projects. Invite commenters to weigh in on whether your progress. How do you think you'd fare?

In case all this sounds too harsh: Unstructured time in which to read, contemplate, climb trees, sleep late, watch movies, cook, work out...this is a very very good thing. I'm not suggesting giving this up.
posted by desuetude at 8:47 AM on May 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

Oh, and I'm not advocating working yourself to death. Just, you know, putting forth effort.
posted by desuetude at 8:49 AM on May 2, 2007

Most people who take time off to get things accomplished get less done than those who add more to an already busy schedule. Inertia counts for a lot. Stop working/going to school, and everything else in your life will stop too.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:52 AM on May 2, 2007

go back to school & take steroids
posted by matteo at 8:56 AM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can't you incorporate your work-out into some awesomeness building activity? Instead of going to the gym several hours a day, why not plan your days around physical activities that will get you into better shape while actually doing something. Take up kayaking, plan 2 long hikes a week. Learn rock climbing, etc. Go jogging at a big park with an obstacle course, spend some time doing that and when you are done, spend the rest of the day at the park reading. Bring a cookbook with you on a hike and plan out a few meals and shopping lists while you are taking a break and enjoying nature. Then go buy stuff on the way home and spend the evening cooking. That's what I'd do, at least.
posted by necessitas at 9:24 AM on May 2, 2007

Because of this question, I just wandered off and went for a run.
Which was awesome.
I too, would like to keep it up and lose 10 pounds. However, as much time as I'd like to decompress, I'm also setting some goals for myself this summer. I have a cash goal that I'd like to accumulate, because that's a cushion to stay afloat on. I have a book goal, I'd like to read a few that aren't academic. I have a training goal that I'd like to reach, getting some certifications I've been meaning to.
In order to accomplish those things, I'm going to need a job, but I can keep being awesome at the same time.
posted by lilithim at 9:35 AM on May 2, 2007

I think even smoking pot and drinking beer all day would be a better idea. At least then you'd probably have some stories to tell afterwards.

I didn't mean to make it sound like a bad thing.

I, for one, enjoyed the time I spent drinking beer and smoking pot. It was pretty great.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 9:42 AM on May 2, 2007

Seriously, you need to help combat our severe shortage of awesomeness. I, too, fall into the "needing a little structure" category so many of us have admitted to, but again, it doesn't necessarily have to be a class for school, either. Just something to get you out of the house and out of your pajamas for a while.

Also, if you're going to work out, try disciplines other than, say, weightlifting, too. Yoga, Pilates, cardio kickboxing, blah blah. It'll be a lot more interesting for you...
posted by at 10:08 AM on May 2, 2007

I spent the summer after graduation in a similar way. I had enough money saved up from college jobs to afford a room in a house with my girlfriend for 3 months. We picked up and left NYC and lived in the small town of New Paltz, where we didn't really know anyone. The summer was pretty excellent. I slept in, I rode my bike around town, I hiked and had long leisurely lunches. We made a few friends. I'd occasionally pick up an odd job for a bit of cash or spend a few hours volunteering at the local family service agency. I caught up on some reading, some video games, some drinking, and some smoking. I swam. I played ultimate frisbee. I got to know my roommates. Sometimes I'd spend the day in bed with my girlfriend. One day on a whim we decided to road trip it up to Canada just for the hell of it, and spent two days going from Montreal to Toronto to Niagra falls and back. That was the summer of the big blackout in NYC and the northeast. We had about $8 on us that day, which we spent on a bottle of wine, shared with our roommates, and stayed up with them until 3 AM or so, having deep conversation, drinking, playing cards, and just being friendly.

I've gotta say, it was one of the most enjoyable 3-month periods of my life. I suppose I did waste a lot of time that summer, but it didn't really seem like wasted time. I could have taken classes or something, but it was very nice not to have even a single simple summer class in the back of my mind. I say don't underestimate the appeal of having a completely free schedule. This can be really bad if it lasts for more than a year or so, but if it's just a summer, it can be very good for your mental health. Life generally doesn't give you the opportunity to take so much time off for yourself (unemployment I guess, but that's not really time you enjoy to its fullest), so I say take it. Good luck getting awesome, and if you do decide to, make sure you live it up and do what you really want to do, whether it's working out, vegging out, or socializing. The rest of us are quite jealous and would be disappointed if you didn't have a blast.
posted by SBMike at 10:31 AM on May 2, 2007

>Also, I've never been that great at planning my time so there's no assurance that I would be spending my non-workout time actually on these productive hobbies rather than sitting around doing nothing.

That is why you shouldnt do this. Only very dedicated, focused, and disciplined people can handle lots of free time and turn it into something productive. You don't even knowwhat musical instrument you want to learn. Lets say you pick a guitar, well, at a certain point all that free time will produce nothing but diminishing returns. You can only practice so long before either wasting your time noodling or becoming upset at how slow progress is. It takes years to become a decent guitar player and the first few months are the hardest. Trying to shove this into one semester is goofy. To even become passable takes 6-9 months of disciplined practice and you can only do so much at a time.

Everything you want to do can be done while taking at least a half of a full load of classes. You can hit the gym every other day, and practice guitar 3 to 4 times a week w/ a teacher. Without a teacher you could be "learning" for years and have nothing to show for it.

I've found time limitations sometimes make me more productive, not the opposite. If I'm working 40hrs a week, I savor my free time a lot more. Theres zero chance of me getting high and listening to the same live dead tracks over and over.

Learning things and doing things always are helped when you are in a structered environment (be it a schedule, teacher, book, social group, etc). Giving up this structure andgoing freestyle usually ends up pretty badly. It did for me when I had a block of free months a few years back. I got nothing done. Nothing.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:34 AM on May 2, 2007

Get awesome!

That said, if it were me, I know that without any definite goals/schedule at all, I would end up sleeping all day and then watching television.

I'd schedule something -- a class at your gym, maybe? -- for ten in the morning, say, something that will make you get out of bed and moving. I'd suggest trying to find week-long courses in some other things, as well. Lots of areas have beginning-cooking classes that run for a week or two of evenings, or a chocolate making class, or a language class three nights a week. I know that part of the appeal is that you won't have any classes, but some of this stuff (languages, musical instruments) is a lot easier to learn with someone to lead you around a bit.
posted by meghanmiller at 10:47 AM on May 2, 2007

Maybe train for a marathon. That is pretty non-negotiably awesome. And television is much better after a 20 mile training run, as are pot and cheetos, and best of all, you will still feel full of awesomeness and virtue.
posted by bluenausea at 11:47 AM on May 2, 2007

I'd say you could get away with doing this and seeming responsible if you found some very light volunteer work that fits in with your definition of awesome. Even an hour a week is enough to fill the blank spot your "summer of nothing" will leave on a resume.

If you can afford to do nothing, go for it. When are you going to get that chance again?
posted by almostmanda at 12:05 PM on May 2, 2007

becoming awesome. you'll likely never have the chance again, so get as awesome as you can.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:09 PM on May 2, 2007

If you are going to take time off, then please travel. Otherwise, if you don't want to/can't travel, then what about taking one course that will interest you - kick that course's ass, and then learn how to box in the afternoons and go running in the evenings.
posted by taliaferro at 12:23 PM on May 2, 2007

another vote for awesome. SBMike has it... come to New Paltz and get awesome.
posted by exlotuseater at 12:32 PM on May 2, 2007

nthing get awesome ... but don't wast your time. I am doing something similar right now with some recent spare time ... working out, reading more, learning Java, traveling, and it rocks so hard! But I have to be careful not to let my spare time vanish down the internet.
posted by jannw at 12:38 PM on May 2, 2007

I'm sort of having a late-winter-to-early-summer of nothing-in-particular, and it's fantastic - I just came home from a year of working 60-hour weeks in a really muggy, polluted place abroad, and lemme tell you, it's nice to have a break to go for a hike or go shopping for baby asparagus or just be the homemaker I never got to be as a college kid. It's nice to spend an hour making something delicious, or writing a letter to a friend, or listening to the birds, and there's no reason why you should deny yourself those pleasures.

As for concerns about your resume, I'm lucky enough that the nature of my work is contract-based, so many, if not most, of my co-occupationists take time off traveling to their next contract site, reconnecting with people back home after being away for a year, or maybe using the time off to retrain and retool for the next stage of life. And I've never even been asked what I was doing during the gaps in my resume. I mean, maybe I'm some kind of anti-corporate rube, but if you're sitting in a job interview, and the interviewer is unsatisfied with the answer "I took the summer off to improve myself," look elsewhere - they can't see the forest (your future health and well-being - and the money you'll save the company by not getting sick all the time) for the trees ("OMG time off!!!11!"). And five or ten years from now, will this "period" even be on your resume anymore?

In the end, work and school are just means of paying for more time off doing your thing. Why wouldn't you exploit the equation to your maximum benefit?
posted by mdonley at 12:41 PM on May 2, 2007

I go to school full time.
I work 30 hours a week.
I still find time to drink my liver to tatters, work out a few times a week, get through a ton of leisurely reading, be social, and still get near 8 hours of sleep a night.

Life wont get any easier and free time wont suddenly appear. Better to learn how to juggle life now than later.

Besides, jobless, schoolless summers is just a great way to catch up on Adult Swim and do drugs.

Are the walls melting yet?
posted by munchingzombie at 12:50 PM on May 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Someone once said to me, regarding the question of spiritual enlightenment (or other such claptrap), "Any jackass can leave the valley, meditate on a mountain and get enlightened. Stay in the valley."

He meant, stay in the valley - and get enlightened.

Real awesomeness does not equal killer glutes. Real awesomeness is artfulness, wisdom, and flexibility of mind and body. People who attain these things usually do so within the confines of sub-awesome daily life. Most of those touring bands or celebrated writers out there got that way by toiling away and turning real life in to art. That's skill, that's sustainable, that's portable.

If you're going to take time off, take time off from a job, but not from work.
posted by poweredbybeard at 1:10 PM on May 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

In other words, I'd suggest you not only re-examine your conception of "time off," but of "needs" as well. Do you need to work a job as much as you plan on working a job? Do you need all the stuff you'll be working to afford? Do you need to mentally and temporally separate working life from enriching life?

bla bla bla

posted by poweredbybeard at 1:14 PM on May 2, 2007

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it now. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it." - Goethe
posted by poweredbybeard at 1:48 PM on May 2, 2007

Get awesome.
posted by divabat at 3:22 PM on May 2, 2007

At the end of your life you don't want to look back and see a cubicle-tunnel extending right back into your college days. Take the summer off. If you do it merely acceptably you'll have great stories to tell for the rest of your life. On the other hand, if you nail it and do it totally right, you won't remember enough to tell any stories but you'll carry that feeling inside you for the rest of your life, to remind you what is important.
posted by foobario at 5:11 PM on May 2, 2007

The only summer I devoted to "becoming awesome" was the summer I studied for and took the bar exam. I went to my bar prep class in the morning, jogged and pumped iron in the gym in the afternoon, and studied in the evenings at the local medical school library. It was an idyllic summer.

The structure of intense study helped me to stick to my workout routine.
posted by jayder at 6:23 PM on May 2, 2007

"All that is necessary for awesomeness to succeed is for good men to do something".
- Edmond Burke

I vote with awesome, everytime.
posted by Neale at 10:41 PM on May 3, 2007

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