The Summertime Shoulds

I haven’t had a summer off in five years. In my “old” life, summer was one of the busiest times, filled with application processing, promotions, and general paper bull shit.

But in this new academic life, summer is freedom. There are no classes, no tests, no assignments, no responsibilities… except for all the “shoulds.” The shoulds of summer are killer. They are the lists of things you should do, that you could do, to make life easier in the fall, to get a head start on life, but none of the things you have to do. The have tos save themselves for Septemeber. June through August are just filled with Tuesday happy hours, sunny day time hikes and the ever-nagging guilt that you should definitely NOT be having this much fun.

I’ve been told the guilt eventually should subside over the summer but to be honest, mine did not. All summer, I felt I should be reading more, doing more research, getting a jump start on my thesis. And yet I did what I needed to do and took Sunday afternoon trips to Bingo, Wednesday night bon fires on the lake, Friday canoe trips.

I read books I’ve been meaning to read. Skimmed new interesting journal articles. I talked to collegues about their projects. I explained my thesis to random townspeople at House Bar. I let academics ruminate around me instead of trying to tackle it down and consume it.

Until this week I felt guilty about how little I had accomplished. And then I was describing my thesis to my family on a trip home and I suddenly had this clarity about what I wanted to discover and how I wanted to frame it. I hadn’t “worked” on my thesis all summer. But in letting is sit there and warm in the sun, it had risen and is now ready to be baked.

I’m not saying this is always the method to employ during summer but this summer, letting go of the shoulds for the wants of summer gave me a sense of clarity and energy pushing me into my second year of grad school.


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