If you would have told me at the beginning of the fall semester that I would do nothing over J-term, I would have probably had a mini-heart attack.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always found solace in productivity and — like many students — used productivity as a measure of self-worth. In high school, I was president of multiple clubs, a yearbook editor, a varsity swimmer, a hospital volunteer and an oboist.
I seldom had a day where I wasn’t rushing from after-school activity to after-school activity, trying to balance my overstuffed schedule.
On some level, I knew that I was buying into a “busy is good” philosophy in which I didn’t truly believe. I felt that it was problematic that college admissions rewarded busyness as a mark of being a good student; the Common Application explicitly asks how many hours per week students spend on each extracurricular. As if having a non-stop, busy schedule is the ideal way to live.
Although I didn’t particularly enjoy being busy, I didn’t see an alternative; I had to “play the game.” I had to turn my passions into club meetings, projects, internships — tangible, productive things that would make some random person reading my resume go “Wow, she’s incredible.”
Well, I got what I wanted. I’m here.
And after my fall semester — the first academic semester in years where I wasn’t president of some club or editor of some publication — having the chance to slow down my schedule was life-changing.
Instead of forcing myself to be busy, I joined a handful of clubs that felt rewarding and fun rather than stressful and obligatory. I took classes I wanted rather than taking the hardest classes possible to look good on a transcript. I learned more in the past semester than I did in my last two years of high school, and I absolutely loved it.
When it came time for J-term, I felt internal pressure to take classes, do research, study, work on writing projects or find an internship — to do something extraordinarily productive so I could feel good about not wasting an entire month.
However, I challenged myself to do something else. I have three future years of J-term to do projects. What if, for once in my life, I committed to doing nothing? To, as cliche as it sounds, focus on myself? To not pressure myself to turn every moment of free time into something wildly useful?
And I did it: I didn’t do research, I didn’t take a class and I didn’t write my magnum opus.
But I did make this insanely good quesadilla recipe that I vow is one of the top 10 things I’ve ever eaten. I wrote story excerpts every night with the goal of having fun, rather than reaching a certain word count. I babysat my favorite kids. I made great memories with my friends in Chicago.
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I did things I had been procrastinating for months: organizing my jewelry instead of letting it sit in a horribly-tangled ball in a Ziploc bag, doing a curly hair routine instead of brushing out my curls every day (oops), buying stickers for my laptop and getting my ears double-pierced.
I thought that not being traditionally productive would make me feel unsettled, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Having a month-long break gave me a sense of inner peace I haven’t felt in years. I grew in my religious faith, spent many nights journaling, and focused on establishing routines that added positivity and joy to my day.
I realized that my old idea of self-care — face masks, bubble baths, Starbucks drinks — was superficial, and the self-care I needed was deeper. I needed self-care to be my mindset, not my skincare routine.
I needed to let my life be defined by joy rather than productivity, because although productivity is great, productivity isn’t everything. I needed to integrate my spiritual life into my day-to-day life. I needed to realize that the best way to make my goals come true is not to worry about padding a resume, but to invest in myself, my passions and the people I care about, and to let the rest fall into place.
So, no, I don’t have any photos of me studying abroad in Luxembourg or any fancy J-term internship to list on my resume. (I’ll save that for future semesters.) For now, I’m perfectly content telling people I did nothing over J-term, because allowing myself to do nothing changed everything.