Opinion: A plea for some time to ourselves

Time off should be thought of as necessary self-reflection rather than a gap in our resume.

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Opinion: A plea for some time to ourselves

Emily Gonçlaves

Emily Gonçlaves

Emily Gonçlaves

Dominic Rottman

I took the Graduate Record Examinations, usually referred to as the GRE, over Thanksgiving Break. After finishing it, I asked myself a question I have asked myself several times this semester: Is grad school really for me? Is it actually something I want to do? I knew, however, that I had little time to myself to give these questions some serious thought. My time has been occupied by my current obligations at Vanderbilt as well as preparations for grad school—a future that I don’t think I’ve  had sufficient time to feel certain about. Yet, I have always felt tremendous pressure to determine my future with a sense of urgency because after graduation I felt that I either had to go to grad school or enter the workforce almost immediately, and any time spent otherwise could cost me.

In fact, I often wonder if my summers were wasted simply because I was working rather than doing any internships or “career-furthering” activities. I know some people who both worked and did an unpaid internship at the expense of their free time, well-being and their lives in general—yet this did not seem right to me. It seems unjust that we feel compelled to spend so much time in service of our “careers” at the expense of the rest of our lives. Time off of “the grind,” so to speak, whether that means a summer without an internship or some time off after graduation ought not to be cause for concern or punishment. 

We think of this time off as “gaps in our resume” we are made to fear, when in reality, one break during our college years won’t hurt, and might ultimately be for the better. Should this gap come up in an interview, is the truth such a bad response–that you took some necessary time to develop yourself? We should have the time we need to discover ourselves and our genuine interests before entering the “real world,” as we like to call it. With time to ourselves, we can be more sure of ourselves and our commitments and therefore more prepared to accept responsibilities as we move forward in life in the workforce or otherwise.

My overall concern is that our attitude towards work ethic and our place in the economy is coming at the expense of not merely our free time but our own welfare and future. Why should we be subservient to the economy before ourselves?

If the response is that we all depend on the economy for our livelihood, that mode of thinking is reductionist at best and dangerous at worst. There is more to life than the economy; we ought to live to work, not work to live–for one cannot first work without being alive. Moreover, if the economy truly does have such a negative impact on our autonomy, why has it gotten to be that way, and how can we change it?

I’m not making a case for slacking off, but making a case for some wiggle room that allows for personal growth that ultimately matters more than our careers. The bottom line is that I would rather be a better person than a better employee, but time off makes for both in the end. If we don’t take the time to evaluate ourselves and our interests, how can we be sure if the career we invest so much time and energy in is worth all of that time and energy in the first place? In the grand scheme of things, I could be asking for more—such as, god forbid, free time! But as it is, we are not granting ourselves enough time to do what should be a given: to take a hard look at ourselves and our lives. We should have time to decide what we’re going to do with life and why, rather than constantly running from checkpoint to checkpoint in developing a career that might not be what we want to do in the first place.

As for me, winter break was marked by wrapping up grad school applications. Yet, for my own sake, I also took some time to evaluate what I actually enjoy doing, what I am genuinely interested in and what I want to do with my life. I encourage all of you to do the same and to make the time for it. We spend enough time networking or hunting down internships and jobs as it is—our careers can wait a few days.

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