Is doing nothing an essential step on your way to doing what you want?
By Mary Zakheim
Here I sit. I am in my room and the calendar boasts July the twenty third. The clock ticks on, closing in on midnight. The sky darkens, soon settling into its short-lived inky respite from daytime. And here I sit. I paw at my keyboard, clicking through the familiar pages on my browser, a monotonous medley: facebook, twitter, gmail. My eyes are heavily lidded and they slowly turn to my lit-up phone screen that blares a recent message received from a friend.
He speaks of plans abroad: plans to meet up, to see new places, to live like locals. My eyes fly open and the Jabba-the-Hut-like blob that I had been a mere minute ago has given way to the fervent foreign Googler who has taken over my laptop. Suddenly, tabs fill the top of my browser with titles like, “UK road trips”, “Mecklenburg how far away from Berlin”, “Oktoberfest in Munich” and “Istanbul to Mykonos flight”. Suddenly, the dronish boredom that had been hovering threateningly over me all day had evaporated. Suddenly, I was alive and dedicated and fervent.
As I went into this summer knowing that I would be without a job, I certainly wondered how I would be faring as summer tapered off into my plans of travel. Would I come to hate myself for deciding to take a break? I have always been somebody who has thrived with routine, order, chores – in short, a strict list of things to do and places to be. And I had always followed my list to perfection, arriving ten minutes early to most everything and checking things off days before they were due. I always loved to ask for more work on a Thursday, pretending to blush when I shyly informed my employers that I’d finished everything they’d set out for me to do.
I’m still that routine-laden woman, I just now find myself flying out of my house two minutes late in meeting a friend, misplacing my keys that I’ve never before misplaced, fretting over crossword puzzles for entire mornings, poring over books that I’ve never had time to pore over. It seems that without a set routine, I also have no standardised set of rules for my daily life. At first, I was horrified at my lateness and worried over my misplaced keys, muttering that I’ve never misplaced my keys in my entire life before this summer. Indeed, having nowhere to go and nothing to see was quite the terrifying prospect at first.
Then I settled in to the life of a lady of leisure (as my mother calls it): I started going on daily hikes with my mom and sister, I started the A Song of Ice and Fire series (five thousand pages later – come on, George R.R. Martin, give me more!), I embarked on doable sewing projects, I sat in the sun and ate blueberries and read books and caught up with friends and enjoyed the summer as I’d never been able to before.
Before, in the days of an employed me, my weekends and time off were taken to be two days of wild, untamed freedom where I’d often gallivant off to another state or else go on some wild adventure because – hey, I only had two days of this nonsense before I had to wake up at 6:30 am on a Monday and start the whole routine all over again.
In some ways, not having a job has been an adventure in its own right. Forced to find solace in solitude, to find my own sort of journeys, to explore what really constitutes who I am and what I want, this summer of unemployment has lent me rather keen insights and adventures – albeit, packaged a bit differently than what I am used to.
To yank myself out of my comfortable bed of routine was to do myself a huge favour.
In doing so, I was able to shake away the structured confidence that four years of constant study, employment and unquestioned acceptance has wrought upon me. Underneath it all, I found that I wasn’t quite sure who I was if I did not bear some kind of label. Who was I really if not a student, an intern, a writer? Indeed, I’m afraid that the classic case of post-graduate quarter life crisis was upon me.
And now, here I sit. I am still in my room and my calendar has just changed to July the twenty fourth. My clock has ticked well past midnight. The sky is still its inky black, savouring the moments before the sharp rays of first light will pierce it. And I reflect on my past three months as an unemployment graduate. Sure, I’ve been bored and tired and uninspired at times – but I must say, I’ve felt these things even with a job or two (or three). What has stood out this summer is how much “doing nothing” has helped me to see what I should be doing in my future – what I want to be doing in my future. Free from my occupying routine, I’ve been able to really, actually, relax and think long term about my hopes and dreams and desires – rather than the short-term thinking that a busy schedule necessitates.
I am a woman of routine, of order, of logic. I am also a woman of adventure, of passion, of questions. I venture forth to try and find the balance between those two halves of myself. This summer, I like to think that I got a little bit closer.