When the future is everything, how do you deal with it being put on hold?
May 26, 2008 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I tire of the summer hiatus from academia. I live with a very strong work ethic and moral sense of duty that causes me a sort of existential crisis when my life seems to be put on hold. This feeling cannot be ignored, and cannot (seem to) be reconciled. Do you have similar experiences? I'd love to hear stories...

I'm a 21 year-old university student, majoring in psychology, with a whole lot of ambition, and a genuine lust for knowledge, transcendence, and the betterment of man.

I spend most of my time during the school year working incredibly hard in academia because I thoroughly enjoy it, and feel it is the best way I could possibly spend my time to meet the above moral ambitions. When I'm not working on academics, I'm working on making money because I am a poor college student with ~$30,000 in debt and I scrape to live paycheck-to-paycheck while putting some away to pay this off. These are pretty much the only two ways my time is spent (I admit to kicking back at night with the occasional movie with my girlfriend who is very much like me, or videogame, or leisurely book).

The thing is, even during the summer when, apart from work (which is a mere 25 hrs a week), I have all the time in the world, I just can't seem put away my tireless work ethic that I've spent the other 8 months living with to the side and relax. I get restless about wasting time, so I spend some of it reading non-fiction literature, and the rest wondering how I should spend my time.

I feel like I'm isolated from the world and contributing nothing to it, which is is partly true because as a university town it empties out during the summer when everyone else goes home, but with my on-campus job I can't do the same.

I'm not looking for psychological advice, or "go see a therapist" comments. This is a completely different matter. Have you been in a similar situation at all? I imagine I'm not the only one who takes the future and academia so seriously. How do you console yourself during the restless period of the summer?

Have you been in this same mental space and read a book that turned your world on its head? I'd love to hear some recommendations or similar stories.
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Start a writing/research project on your own?
posted by paultopia at 3:30 PM on May 26, 2008

Seconded. And you can bet all the professors (potential advisors) haven't gone home.
posted by grobstein at 3:31 PM on May 26, 2008

If you're wanting to fill your free time with academic activity, how about tutoring? You could either tutor children who need extra help in the summer to be ready for their new school year, or tutor at adult education centers (most have summer classes).
posted by amyms at 3:37 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is it possible to get a second, off-campus job? Twenty-five hours a week isn't much--another part-time job should be doable, and will either (1) give you more income to have more options for things to do with your time off or (2) allow you to pay down your debt a little during the summers and have more to live on during the school year.
posted by Cricket at 3:41 PM on May 26, 2008

I teach, and so live permanently on the semester system. Summer used to be really hard for me to deal with for exactly your same reasons. Then I got a stress ulcer at age 20. That taught me to destress and calm down.

The trick with summer is to find things that are interesting and give a sense of accomplishment but are not school related. Make up projects to learn about "something", decide to get healthy, decide to exercise, teach yourself to cook, or if you have to, work on well-rounding your CV.
posted by arabelladragon at 3:59 PM on May 26, 2008

If you have what sounds like a lot of drive for academic life/interests, approach your psychology faculty members. See if you can get involved in a research project. Some may pay (if not this summer, next summer after you have been trained) and frequently, if you contribute to a research project, your name can go on the publication. This would be a great first step for graduate school.

Plus, if you are working with a faculty member, they will probably give you related lab literature/academic articles to read. These may be far more insightful/interesting/new than anything you have seen in a textbook.

Also, as an aside, there is nothing wrong wiht time for yourself (reading nonfiction, etc.) - I've had the same sensation when I work too much and then suddenly have free time.
posted by Wolfster at 4:00 PM on May 26, 2008

How do you console yourself during the restless period of the summer?

Perhaps by keeping in mind that this is perhaps the last period of your life (well, until you retire) where you will have this kind of freedom in the summer? Even if you continue in academia past the undergraduate level summer is no longer a real vacation, as it becomes a time when you need to be focusing on research.
posted by advil at 4:01 PM on May 26, 2008

I third the research suggestion. I have the exact same problem you do. I cannot wind down in the summer and if I try I simply get bored or depressed. I realized the issue was that I was trying to force myself to take a break when I didn't want one. But who says summer is a break from all work? It is only a break from required work. The summer is a chance to shed the readings and papers you are required to do and instead work on research that you yourself want to do. So, I look forward to the summer as a chance to work on my own research and get papers ready for publication.

Also, realize this is exactly what your profs are doing. They can't wait to stop grading papers and get back to their own research interests. So, if you don't have your own project see if one of your profs might want some help.
posted by boubelium at 4:02 PM on May 26, 2008

Summer school? Six credits during summer session at my university kept me pretty busy.

Also, you can't say you're having an existential crisis and say you don't want psychological advice. If it's really an existential crisis, burying yourself in more work will mask or delay the problem, not resolve it.

Good luck, this stuff is common and normal for young type-A academic types.
posted by bluejayk at 4:12 PM on May 26, 2008

A qualified psychologist I knew volunteered for help-line work to add to his knowledge and skills. You get training and they take people off the street, so you could do that to keep you busy. When the phones are quiet, you could continue with the reading.

I nth the suggestion to work with your professors. Just email them all (attach your resume) and ask if they have any work, or know anyone who needs a research assistant (or whatever they call them in your country). Depending on how much they trust you, and how good you are, the work can be wildly stimulating and exciting or deadly boring but you get to build contacts and extra skills.

As a student, I was bugged by the summer break the first year, so I took extra course work during the second summer. I am so looking forward to summer (Xmas) this year, I'm worn out.
posted by b33j at 4:14 PM on May 26, 2008

Do something. It doesn't need to be the perfect thing, and it doesn't need to be making the world a better place -- it needs to be something that gets you one more unit of experience, which will enable you to make a difference starting in a few years. Try to find something interesting and worthwhile, of course, but if you can't, you should get out and do something even if it's a pay-the-bills type of job. Everything you do builds experience and connections that will help later. Every week you spend sitting around thinking "oh, if only I could find the perfect way to contribute, then I would really be getting somewhere" is a wasted week. (Weeks you spend travelling, or relaxing without guilt, or building insane machines that make musical pancakes, or other crazy projects, are not wasted.)

Definitely talk to professors about summer research projects. Definitely think about areas where you think your contributions after graduation are likely to head (will you be entering medicine? teaching? etc) and talk to whomever at your college knows how to get a head start on those areas.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:01 PM on May 26, 2008

The way you describe your ambition is pretty vague and general (you're interested in transcendence?). Such ambitions are impossible to pursue because they're not specific enough. You can't take steps to get wisdom generally. You have to just get going on some specific, mundane actual project. Wisdom comes out of doing a lot of those; it doesn't come from reading nonfiction books, even though nonfiction books are really interesting.

When you should be thinking about at this stage is either:

1. Laying the groundwork for later stuff:
-developing skills that will enable you to contribute more in a couple years (eg language skills, computer programming or other tech skills, carpentry, car mechanics, bike repair, accounting, etc)
-developing connections or building specific credentials for paths you think you might like to pursue (eg if you wanted to go to vet school, getting in your hours mucking out horse stalls, if you want to go into law, working in a local law office)
- research project with professor (also talk to college archives; college greenhouse; other facilities) or local hospital

2. making a tangible difference now, which basically means finding a local small-scale volunteer opportunity. Tutor; run the rec center for poor immigrant kids; etc.

3, doing something off the wall that isn't obviously practical in any way but is interesting to you. Build something whimsical. Compose; draw; make videos; make a goofball website; etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:02 PM on May 26, 2008

If you're interested in the betterment of man, go out and do it. Volunteer for a charity over the summer. Cook for the homeless. Help at your local library.
posted by wingless_angel at 12:53 AM on May 27, 2008

It sounds like you might be interested in continuing on to do graduate work in your field. If so, you'll be happy to hear that you'll no longer have your summers free once you hit grad school. For that reason, I'd suggest doing something non-academic with your summers now, while you have the chance - is there a charity or organization that you'd like to support with some volunteer work?

Also, to add to what a few other posters have said, try learning to enjoy your "now" while you're in it. Thinking of your life only in terms of some abstract future is a great way to ruin the kind of amazing fact that you're alive in a kind of amazing here and now.
posted by Hellgirl at 7:44 AM on May 27, 2008

« Older Two exciting questions about Canadians earning...   |   How do I get over a girl who has lead me on/won't... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.