You guys, this Sunday I had the best day. My dad picked me up at 8 o’clock in the morning so my family could spend the day together. We stopped for breakfast on the way home, split some pancakes, and chatted about books and Louis CK. My grandmother was visiting for the weekend and she made fun of us for being on our phones. We played wiffleball in the backyard. We bought our Christmas tree. We named him Craig.
But every few hours, I’d find myself wringing my hands. All of a sudden I’d need to get up off the couch and pace for a minute. I’d usually end up standing in front of my backpack.
I was surrounded by my family and good food and Craig, but I couldn’t stop myself from squirming. And I know exactly why- I wasn’t being productive enough. I didn’t study for any finals, didn’t work on any grad school applications, didn’t work out. I got to spend the day laughing with my family- something I really don’t get to do enough – and I felt vaguely yucky and jittery all day.
(The Riley children will pose nicely for a picture for about 12 seconds)
Now some of this can be attributed to impending finals and grad school deadlines. I probably won’t feel entirely at ease for at least two more weeks, and I’m okay with that. What’s been bugging me lately is how hard it is to relax, how it always feels like I should be doing something more. I don’t know if I’m the only one who feels this way, but if you can relate at all, I’d like to tell you something:
You are more than the sum of your productivity.
It’s okay that you didn’t get as many things done as you’d have liked to today. It’s alright that you didn’t finish studying for your exam, or walked right by the gym, or didn’t happen to spend your afternoon rescuing stray puppies and solving the global energy crisis. We can’t all be super-productive everyday. I think that’s important to realize.
Now I don’t think it’s a bad thing to be productive. In fact, my mental well-being depends on it a lot of the time. There’s nothing better than a day full of learning new things, talking to people, challenging myself, and working up a good sweat before I sit down on the couch with my mug of tea at the end of the night. But I think it might be starting to get toxic.
This semester, our friend Meg started grad school at MIT. Today I got this snapchat from her.
It was the beginning of September, and we’d been chatting on the phone a lot. (It was the beginning of another semester apart and we were still adjusting to not doing homework on the couch together every night.) Meg was in the middle of MIT orientation, and underwhelmed with the whole process.
“They’re just not telling me anything I don’t know and I’m not with anyone who’ll be in my program so I think I’m gonna skip the next two days,” she told me one afternoon. “The only thing is, if I don’t go then I’ll have the next two days totally free. I’ll have nothing to do.”
I laughed. “Isn’t it funny,” I said, “how freaked out we all get by free time?”
It’s true. Hannah and I look at a day off like some people look at a colonoscopy. When you have no class, no work, no meetings, no homework to do, then what are you supposed to do with yourself all day? We’ve come to rely on being busy, to define ourselves by it. And it gets a lot more intense during the school year.
Every time I stop and talk to someone, we get into this back and forth of who can sound more busy and put-out and exhausted. But it’s not a competition. You don’t have to be the busiest. You don’t have to be busy at all, really. Not all the time.
It’s okay. Really, it is. Sometimes you go to the library and stare blankly at your email for a while before leaving for lunch because you’re hungry. Sometimes you go to the gym then get off the treadmill after twenty minutes because you feel like you’re gonna die. Some days you avoid the library and the gym and other humans like the plague. Sometimes you sit down to read a book and end up napping on the couch. (Actually, that might be the only version of that situation. How are you supposed to finish any books if you get kinda narcoleptic every time you try to read?)
The other night I got home from the library with all these plans of what I was going to do while I waited for Hann to get home to watch a movie. I was going to write, read my book, have some tea, maybe work on my personal statement. I ended up playing this dumb game on my phone where you essentially connect different colored dots. You win some you lose some, ya know?