While some of my fellow college students spent their spring breaks lounging on exotic beaches or volunteering with international nonprofits, I opted to spend mine lazing it up, chez moi. At least, that had been the plan. I’d spent the week before break in a distant realm of hell, limping to the finish line of my most assignment-dense week of the semester, eyes fixed on the sweet, sweet prize of a weeklong victory nap on my parent’s couch. My plan of doing absolutely nothing over spring break was swiftly dashed by everything from the arrival of midterm grades (come on, profs–you couldn’t have let me have one more week of laboring under the delusion that the rest of the semester would be smooth sailing into summer?) to the opportunity to test for a summer internship to the unforeseen need to catch up on work for the classes that I’d neglected while prioritizing other classes’ midterms. By two weeks before spring break, my to-do list was two pages long. In spite of this, I shrugged it off. A full week should have been more than enough time to accomplish everything, after which I would still have plenty of time leftover to do absolutely nothing–right?
Not quite. I’ve spent the past week struggling to find enough time – and motivation – to finish my internship test, see my friends from home, visit my family, and even sleep, let alone check off all the other boxes on my laundry list. When I did let myself catch up on just a fraction of the entertainment the first half of my semester had been devoid of, I felt guilty and anxious about not working, unable to enjoy the very thing that had served as the light at the end of my seemingly interminable midterm tunnel. That’s when I realized why so many people plan getaways for Spring Break–to get a break not only from the same old scenery, but also to force a break in the constantly-stressing mindset of a pre-professional student. It’s also when I realized that–for me, at least–Spring Break would never really be a break from anything other than having to attend classes.
The problem with many aspects of college culture–and the adult professional culture that it so often emulates–is that it allows for only two modes of operation: cram, or crash. You’re either busy playing the hare–or, in its 21st century incarnation, the Energizer Bunny–or the totally wiped tortoise. And sure, the tortoise thinks he’s the wise guy: slow and steady is supposed to win the race. But the demands placed on college students today call for both greater speed and endurance–with no room left for moderation, eventually necessitating a full-on stop rather than a simple slow-down. Take binge watching, for example. It’s a mode of TV viewership that evolved due to the fact that people don’t have the time to take 30-60 minutes out of their lives on a weekly basis to watch a regularly scheduled program, choosing instead to go all-out in their limited leisure time–as in nearly every other aspect of their lives–to complete a series in one fell swoop.
Even passive leisure activities like TV watching, like everything else, have intensified. I shudder to think of the work–or play–we may one day feel obliged to complete in the shower–or, worse yet, on the toilet. If our “down” time is nearly as attention taxing as our “up” time, the middle ground is inevitably shaky, if it even exists at all. My attempt to seek balance this week has failed miserably, my ever-lengthening to-do list becoming more and more absurd by the day. “Catch up on as much TV and movies as possible” now sits alongside “Complete other job apps and inquiries,” even as “Finish Internship Test” still lingers. My to-do list is where my duties and desires co-mingle – and damn, is it a shallow coalescence. The hectic pace of our daily lives has reduced us to a string of active – and then very, very passive – verbs, seeking either the next leg up in the world or the worthiest investment of our carefully allotted time to unwind. If this is our generation’s version of the so-called “college experience,” then why does it allow so little time or mental energy to truly “experience” anything? It may be efficient, sure–but is it fulfilling?