OPINION: Make summer break a true break

By Madeline Papcun

America is obsessed with productivity. Much of this obsession ties back to our capitalistic nature — we value hard work and efficiency, often to the point of making working central to our personalities. If you look back to the industrial revolution, and the concept of Taylorism, we haven’t strayed far from this even centuries later. We approach most tasks from a factory management lens, looking to increase efficiency on the smallest levels, so costs remain low and profit soars high.

Thus, on the individual level, we start to see hours not spent at the office as a waste of time. If you aren’t actively producing some tangible product, you aren’t using your time wisely. But this is a toxic mindset that only leads to burnout.

Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” is required for many different classes and courses, for good reason. It’s a well-written critique of the American dream. The struggles that Jurgis and his family face tell the story of so many immigrants to America, with his persistent “I will work harder” attitude. However, I don’t think I understood it fully until a professor last semester plainly stated, “Jurgis is an idiot.” A productivity-obsessed society will wear you down until you physically cannot work any harder. “I will work harder” becomes a death sentence pretty quickly.

As a college student, this fixation on productivity rules over my summers. My mindset — though I am working to change it — remains that if at any moment I am not doing something physically useful, such as making money or learning in school so that I can one day make more money, I might as well kiss my future goodbye.

Therefore, the term “summer break” or “summer vacation” becomes an oxymoron of sorts. There is this extremely pervasive attitude that summer is a waste if you do not have that perfect internship in your field of study, or a lucrative summer job where you work at the bare minimum 40 hours a week, or if you are not taking summer session courses to get ahead in your degree. Honestly, if you aren’t doing at least two, if not all three of these, you’re seen as a lazy 20-something with neither a direction in life nor the initiative to go out and find one.

Moreover, we fuel this mindset with our competitive nature as well. As the spring semester ends each year and you discuss your summer plans with friends, there’s some sick need to have the most jam-packed break. You want to be doing the most, to be getting the furthest ahead. The American educational system is over-competitive; we foster rivalries between students beginning in kindergarten that only grow in the future.

However, the reality of the situation is that if you are doing all of this, i.e. the internship and the job and the schooling, you will be so burnt out by the fall semester that you won’t be able to keep up with your studies.

So while my advice seems simple, it is extremely important: take a break, and make summer a true break. You can work your summer job to help you afford the next semester, but you don’t need to clock 60 hours a week. You can work hard at your new internship, if you remember to make time for yourself and socialization. You can take that summer class to stay on track with your plan of study, but book that getaway vacation for when the summer session ends, or at the very least, take a few days for yourself once the coursework is done.

Find balance, and above all else, be proud of yourself for what you do accomplish. It’s very difficult to learn to navigate an ever-changing world as an emerging adult. A mindset promoting 24/7 productivity while doing so is counterproductive, doing more harm than good.

Madeline Papcun, who is entering her junior year at the University of Connecticut, is an intern this summer in the Record-Journal newsroom. She can be reached at mpapcun@record-journal.com.


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