Off the Board, Opinion

Why it pays to slow down this summer

Remember your elementary school summers? When school was out and the living was easy? Goodbye, long division–hello ice cream sandwiches, sleepover camp, and Saturday morning swimming lessons.

As an undergraduate student, summers are sort of like those swimming lessons. Except instead of learning to float on your back, someone just throws you into the deep end. Instead of water wings, you’re equipped with half a degree and a CV that’s more spin than substance.

It kind of makes you miss long division.

Make no mistake: On campus, the once innocuous, “What are your summer plans?” becomes code for, “What are your career and life prospects for the next three years or so?” Each May through August, students get their annual, bracing taste of post-graduation life and–if they play their cards right–a new LinkedIn profile update. It’s not nearly as fun as camp. But then, students don’t apply to 13 unpaid summer internships because it’s fun.

However, even if you have eight sparkling, degree-relevant references to show for it, something’s lost when students treat summers only as stepping stones to life after McGill. The urgent, ever-forward-looking way that undergraduates cram summers with extra credits, internships, and part-time jobs certainly amounts to an impressive resume, but it can also eclipse those experiences themselves.

I say this as an Arts student who, thus far, has viewed her summers as periods designated for ticking off Generically Successful Young Adult milestones. I’ve waitressed, I’ve taken summer courses and studied for my LSAT, I’ve worked for pay in a field not remotely pertaining to my career interests, and, this summer, I’m interning for free in a field that might be related to my career interests–check, check, check, check.

For better or for worse, summers are the spaces between working on a degree, wherein the resourceful student tries to figure out what exactly they’re going to do with said degree. That’s not a bad thing per se–to some extent it’s a necessity, if you want to be employed at some point down the line.

The problem is when students start seeing those spaces only as means to the end of post-graduation success–whatever that looks like. Four months may seem dispensable in the span of a year at McGill, but across four or five years, those Julys and Augusts add up. If you spend them only thinking about what comes next, you can miss a lot.

Last summer, while waitressing at a Mexican restaurant, I knew the difference between a tequila and a mezcal. My dad asked me about it the other night. I drew a blank. My knowledge of tequila has, understandably, been filed away with the likes of long division and whatever I learned in Intro to Deductive Logic in first year.

Like the staleness of realizing you’ve retained next to nothing from a course post-final exam, it was sad to think that the only thing I’d gained from those months waitressing was another reference on my CV. Because it wasn’t–I’d also met some wonderful people, learned how to properly wield a corkscrew, and eaten more burritos than ever before in my life. Yet, at the time, that all seemed secondary to the seemingly depressing fact that I was working at a Mexican restaurant the summer before my penultimate year at McGill. Who cared about the finer points of tequila, when real life was coming up?

It’s June now, around the time when I find myself most susceptible to fantasies of Montreal reunions and OAP afternoons–and the dread of applying to graduate shortly after. Meanwhile, my current internship becomes more time-killing and less self-starting.

This year, however, I propose a different approach: A reclaiming of summer, if you will. It doesn’t have to be just an exercise in goal-setting and chronic stress management. I accept that the days of blue raspberry-popsicle innocence are behind adults-in-training. The future matters–but so does the present. So, whether you’re making bagels every morning at 5 a.m., or trying on a nine-to-five workday, or just having a really, really good time, let’s go back to treating summers as worthwhile experiences in themselves.

As lackluster as serving margaritas may seem in the larger blueprint of What I’m Doing With My Life, it’s in the spaces between “what I’ve done” and “what’s next” where real life occurs. Those formative spaces are lost when students–or functioning adults, for that matter–only pay attention to the checkpoints.

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