It’s been about 2 months since I stuffed my car full of my possessions, waved goodbye to Champaign, Illinois, and drove 18 hours back to Tampa with Isabelle. It feels like so far away, mostly because the days have blended together since then. Like those summer vacations in high school when you could wake up whenever you wanted and spend the day eating and goofing around. I’ll admit I had that going on for about 3 weeks before I got tired of waking up at 1 p.m. and doing nothing. My dad, a middle school math teacher, called it a well-deserved break after two years of non-stop studying and teaching. He often calls his summer vacations “recovery time” from the stress and go-go-going of the previous ten months. I’ve really been feeling that.
You hear professors and students talk a lot about “burn-out.” Just the other day, my college mentor messaged me to make sure I wasn’t doing my usual fifty things at once routine and taking breaks. I think I surprised her at how easily I admitted to taking breaks and naps and not stressing. But the funny thing is, I thought I had experienced burn-out when I finished my bachelor’s degree. I was wrong. Nothing prepared me for the mental and physical exhaustion that followed walking off that stage in May.
That sleeping ‘til 1 p.m. that I mentioned? I’ve never done that before in my life. I have always been a 6-8 a.m. riser depending on the night before, with a steadfast internal alarm clock that meant I was never really late to anything in my life. I credit/blame my super punctual Latina mom for a lot of the habits I have today. Even during summers in high school, the latest she would let me get up, if I was lucky, was 10 a.m., and even then it was usually earlier that I would wake up to the sound of bachata music blending with the vroom of the vacuum cleaner.
My recent sleeping habits have been a huge indicator of how much graduate school wore me out. But it also speaks to how much these two years have changed me and my priorities. In the last year, especially, I’ve done a lot of thinking about why I’m such a workaholic, why it’s hard for me to say no to adding to my already packed schedule, and why I feel so unaccomplished at times despite all that I’ve done in the last 6 years. All this thinking has culminated in my conclusion that, like so many in my generation, I have been wired to expect to work hard and get little in return. I’ve also been wired to judge my individual “success” on a checklist of standard “accomplishments.” But these accomplishments never really get praised…at least not by me. Instead, the feelings of “This isn’t special, anybody can _____” and “I should be doing more” are at the forefront, guiding me towards my next task. When I think about it in this way, it’s upsetting but also eye-opening. For the first time in my life, I’m seeing value in my time and effort. I’ve started to consider what I want to do with my life more and started crossing off “accomplishments” in my head that were put there by other people. Things like a 9-5 job, owning a home before 30, getting married, and even starting a family might be ideal for other people right now, but not for me. Maybe I want those things, maybe I don’t. All I know is that I refuse to keep doing work for the sake of others’ preconceived notions of “success.”
This summer has been hard. I’ve had to reassess a lot about where I want my life to go from here and have made decisions to reflect that. At the beginning of the summer, I was excited to have been offered a full-time position at a local high school teaching English & ESL. I was prioritizing paying off my loans and spending time with my family and figured putting my life on hold for a couple of years to do so wouldn’t be a big deal. A lot of this thinking was driven by voices that kept telling me the responsible, obvious choice now that school was over was to get a full-time, decently paying job to make all the work I had done until that point worth it. But as the summer days went by, I found myself antsy and sad as I considered the job I had signed on to do. The time requirement for the job was extensive and getting home at 5 p.m. would leave me little time and energy to work on all the other things I am passionate about. I had been so excited during my last semester of grad school at the thought of having at least a bit of free time to enjoy the things I put off while in school for so many years. Reading more of the books collecting dust on my shelves and playing video games I never got to finish. Hanging out and keeping in touch with friends (I love sending letters!) and exploring Tampa more as an adult. The thought of putting off these things further for the sake of practicality seemed miserable, even for this Capricorn.
Everyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I’m not an impulsive person. Sure, my vocal filter is nonexistent, but I take my time thinking and researching before jumping on big decisions. That didn’t happen this time. Randomly in the middle of June, I began job searching again, and a few days later, with some interviews already lined up, I emailed my boss and quit before I even started the high school teaching job. The response email was understanding but direct.
“Have you been employed elsewhere?” he asked.
“No, I have not.”
My anxiety rose with my honest response, but also my hope. I had just set myself up to possibly be unemployed for a lengthy amount of time with student loans hanging over my head. Despite this, I could breathe again. Suddenly, there was all this time to fill and opportunity to seek and, most importantly, the desire to do both. The 22-year-old me that was working three jobs fresh out of undergrad would have never done something so irresponsible. The 24-year-old me understands that it’s not irresponsible to go after what makes me happy, whether practical or not.
It’s been hard for me to tell people about all the changes I made this summer. Not because I’m ashamed of why I made the decisions that I did or how I rationalized them, but because it means explaining where I am in life, like I had to do with my aunt the other day. I take pride in my work, but sharing that pride with others feels boastful. But I’m working on it.
Titi, I’m 24. I just finished my master’s degree and have a small business. A 9-5 job just isn’t in the cards for me right now. It’s too time consuming. That’s ok. Instead, I’m adjuncting at my local community college and working as an editor.
I’m going to be fine.
Some pictures of me and some of the places I've seen! I'm not a professional photographer so don't expect anything grandiose!