As finals rolled to a close at the end of last semester, people seemed to be focused on two things: how much they couldn’t wait for break and how much they couldn’t wait for break to be over.

“Break’s too long,” seemed to be the general consensus, and for a while I agreed. But in retrospect, that doesn’t quite seem fair, and that’s not only because I would be quite all right with an extra week of rest right about now in my state of sleep deprivation.

I understand that break seems far too long at the beginning. If you’re anything like me, the first few days involve three things only: sleeping (during most of the daylight hours), eating (full bags of anything), and watching television (the Food Network has some great late-night programming). During commercial breaks, you may be filled with the disheartening realization that you have to spend the next month-and-a-half without the perpetual-motion lifestyle of activities, constant human connection, and raucous entertainment that we find at school.

There are many people who have concrete and legitimate reasons to wish for a shorter break. Some may face a tough family situation or feel that they became a new person at Wesleyan, while friends at home remain unchanged. No opinion article I write can change that, but there is something to be said for trying to create a good situation in spite of these factors.

To justify the length of break, plenty of people throw around the “opportunity” argument. Think about all the things you can do in your newfound free time that you couldn’t before! Read a book! Go skydiving! Cure a disease! But maybe you’re not identifying with this argument, and all of this “opportunity” stuff is too fluffy for you. You want to be happy, and Usdan apple crisp/sledding on Foss/staring at the clouds on Duke Day are the things that make you happy. That makes sense to me. I prefer chocolate ice cream to other flavors, and although I’ll eat something else if I have to, I would never choose to. I’m still an okay person.

Think of it this way: there are going to be times where vanilla ice cream is the only option, just like there are going to be times when you are not going to be in the throes of activity and your social hub. You may be unemployed at some point. You almost certainly will want to retire at some point. In these situations, the standard activities that kept you grounded suddenly don’t exist. While, again, food, naps, and television will most likely fill a lot of this newfound free time, it is important to be able to know how to handle yourself when there is nobody telling you what to do.

We spend most of our lives learning how to be busy. We are counseled on how to reduce stress, not reduce boredom. We are taught how to increase organization and cut back on procrastination, and there is no doubt that these are important life skills as well.

For example, a huge part of my high school experience was a proverbial pissing contest to see who had the more packed planner.  Instead of fancy cars and expensive clothes, popularity was determined by lack of sleep. Three hours a night without going postal? That’s prom queen material right there. Your self worth was determined by the height of your blood pressure.

Ridiculous or not, I got a good deal out of that situation. I learned how to function with ease in the “real world” when the real world consists of deadlines and little else. Nevertheless, I wasn’t very good at the other situation: doing nothing.

Nobody ever tells us this, but we also need to know how to be not-busy, and there is no way to learn except by practice. We need to practice dealing with a lack of structure so that we have a reservoir of knowledge about how to be “unproductive.” Winter break acts like a trial run for times later in life when we may have “nothing to do.” Being thrown in over our heads, we have to dig ourselves out of the “nothing to do” mindset and find things to do for ourselves, without a syllabus or Google Calendar dictating our actions.

So next break, take up a new skill. Be creative. Sure, you could paint, or build a table, or learn an instrument. But let me suggest a new art: the art of productive unproductivity.

  • Anonymous

    In your mind contrast the undergraduate breaks with the schedules of American soldiers. If you can. If something like that might ever cross your minds.