Off the Board, Opinion

Learning to go slow

This past summer was a summer of long drives. I would put on a podcast, occasionally find a passenger, and hit the road in my beat-up blue Subaru. Ironically, at some point, while speeding on long stretches of Route 175, I also came to embrace moving slowly.

I have always been bad at slowing down. Even as a kid, I would immediately pick an ambitious project or set a new goal when presented with a break from school. I would take up knitting, train for a race, or fix a broken clock that I was determined not to replace. No matter what, I would pour my all into something that would give me tangible results and stave away the awful feeling of having wasted precious free time by simply relaxing. 

As I got older, hobbies turned into using my time off to plan for the future, but my fears of misusing time persisted. My calendar was meticulously organized in order to prevent a wasted moment. Breaks may have been about taking a pause from school, but they certainly were not about rest.

This summer, I was woefully unoccupied. The winter semester had been difficult for me, marked by burnout and depression. (It turns out that balancing a part-time job, working at a student paper, and being a full-time student are not conducive to a peaceful lifestyle.) So, there I was at the end of April, with my biggest fear about to be true: I had no summer plans. As friends left Montreal to take on impressive internships, network, and make money to save for the future, I quit my job at a restaurant and mindlessly travelled in the months to come.

Going into the summer, I was worried—given my track record with unconstructed time—that my mental health would go downhill. Of course, I panicked at times, feeling as if I was dooming my future, but I pleasantly surprised myself with my ability to lean into rest and let the open road take me anywhere. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve also always been overly self-judgemental. I would tell any friend that they should relax and let loose—after all, we are only young once, and there is plenty of time for everything. But I never included myself in this and always felt guilty once I inevitably burnt out and was forced to take a break anyway. I am not going to lie and say that is no longer the case, but this summer was new for me. I let myself be thoroughly and unapologetically impractical, and boy did it feel good. 

I got lost alone in Venice at 2 a.m. with a dying phone, watching the water lap at the edges of beautiful buildings, feeling elated and free. I drove five hours from Saguenay to Montreal just to spend four hours with someone I love before promptly driving back. I let myself pull off of the highway in upstate New York to see a park that looked beautiful and take a nap in a hammock. Sure, I made some calls that hurt the next day—mostly due to sleep deprivation—but I wouldn’t go back and change a thing.

I am now staring down the barrel of graduation next semester, and July feels like pure fiction. In a sea of students imbued with productivity mindsets and competitive ambition, it is hard to hold myself to taking it slow and being kind to myself. But in moments when I feel so overwhelmed that I want to run away and never look back, I remember the feeling of driving through the forest, windows cracked, and a sense of calm contentment rolls over me like a wave. 

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