The title of this blog post is a paradox by nature. How can a summer be both productive and unproductive? Let me explain.
I was supposed to have been writing blog posts three times a week all summer. I have not done this. I was supposed to have been posting two YouTube videos a week all summer. I have not done this. I was supposed to be doing a lot of reading in preparation for the undergraduate thesis that I will be writing over the next eight months. I have not done this.
What I have done, however, is this:
- Had a phenomenal time working at a Canadian National Historic Site near my home, with amazing co-workers and a relaxed atmosphere that makes it feel as though I’m not really working;
- Ridden Madison (the horse I ride) upwards of three times per week all summer, making progress for both of us and going on lovely trail rides that are food for the soul;
- Gone on lots of hiking trips since discovering my love for the sport in Scotland: the Kejimikujik Seaside Adjunct in Nova Scotia, Mount Carleton Provincial Park in northern New Brunswick, Fundy National Park, Kouchibouguac National Park, Prince Edward Island National Park, Parc des Chutes Montmorency in Quebec, and Park national de la Jacques-Cartier in Quebec;
- Gone on road trips to places I’ve always wanted to visit near my home but never actually gone to see;
- Read a few books for pleasure rather than for university;
- Spent time with my family who, as I get older, are more and more important to me;
- Went to Quebec City for the first time and saw Ed Sheeran in concert, which was by far the best show I’ve ever seen;
- Got addicted to Game of Thrones and Outlander;
- And much more.
As you can see, many of the things on the above list do not really correspond to society’s constructed ideas of what constitutes “productivity.” The word itself calls to mind ideas of to-do lists completed, exhaustion and the glamorization of busy. Don’t get me wrong – I am the first person to admit that I voluntarily put too much on my plate. I’ve finally realized, however, that when you fill your schedule too full, you will burn out. This may be obvious to some, but the pressure I always put on myself has made me blind to the fact. This summer, I’ve been able to relax and rejuvenate in preparation for what will undoubtedly be the busiest and most stressful year of my academic career thus far. I will be writing an undergraduate thesis as part of my Honours program, acting as a Teacher’s Assistant in a second-year English course, be a member of the executive for a volunteer group on campus, have applied for an internship and am hoping to re-vamp the English Society. The above list honestly makes me tired just thinking about it, but it’s a good kind of tired. After taking a summer to myself without much thought of academics, I am feeling anxious to get back to school rather than dreading it as I usually do.
I have had three full months to focus on things that are important to me but that usually take the back burner. The main thing has been my mental health. My exchange in Scotland has had a hugely positive impact on my mental health and taught me new strategies to deal with a relapse when it happens. I have put these strategies into use this summer, taking little steps to make my outlook and approach towards life more positive.
The biggest change I have made is to eat healthier. I’ve failed every time I’ve tried dietary changes before because I cut everything out cold turkey and tried exercising hard every day. I was so focused on the end goal that I didn’t stop long enough to develop realistic, sustainable habits. Over the last three months, I have made small changes to my diet that will have a positive impact in the long run. No, the number on the scale hasn’t really changed, but I feel healthier and happier. I don’t really eat “junk food” (chips, chocolate, cookies, etc) anymore, but when I do it’s in moderation and I don’t let myself feel guilty about it. As long as it’s every once in awhile and not a HUGE serving, it’s not a big deal. I’ve also cut red meat out of my diet. This was not an unconscious choice; even though I like it, red meat makes me feel gross. Don’t need it? Cut it out. Portions are also a big thing for me. Eating healthier foods will not make a difference if you’re still eating more food than you should be. I’m now more conscious not only about what I put in my body, but the amount of food that I put into my body. Once I get back to school and on an exercise program (that is the next step to this gradual health evolution), I should notice a difference in my overall physical health and fitness level.
I’m also moving back to my university town for the year quite soon, which has further forced me to think about what I need and what I don’t need. Living in Scotland forced me to live as a bit of a minimalist, and I’ve never been happier. I’m starting to pack now, and as I do so I will consider each item and think about whether I use it/really need it or not. If I don’t, I’ll put it into a pile of stuff to sell or give away. Becoming a bit more minimalistic is attractive to me, because it saves money and means that there is less clutter in my life. I have always found that I am most stressed when my environment is cluttered. Less clutter in my life means less clutter in my mind. I’m looking forward to implementing this change.
Everything mentioned above shows that having an untraditionally productive summer is not a bad thing. In my eyes, it’s better and will result in higher productivity levels during the school year. I’m no longer going to allow myself to feel guilty for taking time for myself when I really need it – even when that time takes up the whole summer.