From Our Readers
July 30, 2013 6:00 am

When I was a kid, my mother made it her mission that I would never have an easy summer.  “I will not allow you to slack off for three months while you’re out of school!” she’d tell me in a voice that was somehow always encouraging and authoritative at the same time. I could see her mind frantically ticking away at the thought of two kids running around with nothing to do for three months.  The chaos was simply too much to bear.  And so from the time I was five until I graduated from high school, I spent my summers doing everything from math problems in workbooks (summer before third grade: not the best one ever) to going to summer camps, to volunteering at charity offices (I’ll give my mother that one–those were actually beneficial).

Growing up, these activities seemed to be the worst ideas ever conceived by humankind. I had worked my butt off in school for what seemed to be forever, and now I had to spend another two and a half months working? My mother, I had concluded, was insane.  I just needed a break.  A rest.  A sabbatical from life, if you will.  This wish was never—and probably never will be—granted to me.

It has now been a couple of years since my mother spent her time micromanaging my summers.  Instead of spending my summers restocking food pantries or doing summer reading challenges at libraries, I now spend my time legitimately working in offices, getting paid real money, and working really long hours.  Yet somehow, the demanding and busy summers my mother had forced me into as a child have become a sort of pattern in my life.  And, as of today, I’ve decided this pattern is not necessarily a bad one.

I know plenty of young adults like myself who are currently spending their summers lifeguarding, interning, or working in an ice cream shop (all of which are honorable summer employment options).  But beyond this, they do nothing.  They work, party on the weekends, sleep for a while, and then do it all over again.  Fearful that this would happen to me, I decided at the beginning of the summer that I would make a list of all the things I was going to accomplish over the next three months. I was not going to be that college kid who sat around and did nothing of substance for three months. Call it force of habit, but my busy summer pattern was going to continue as always–except, this time, I would be the one planning it.

My summer list ended up stretching for miles.  After being away from school for several weeks and no longer having carpal tunnel from extensive exams, I was feeling quite ambitious.  My list included goals such as reading all of Jane Austen’s novels, learning to fry an egg, running 6 miles, etc, etc, etc.

But life isn’t always what you plan it to be, is it? Yes, you can make your lists and plan your activities, but life always seems to get in the way. Instead of reading Austen novels all summer I’ve been doing things like convincing my friends to jump into a freezing fjord with me or going on lunch dates with really cool people that I’ve met.  Instead of learning to fry an egg, I’ve been having my mother teach me everything she knows about cooking so that I don’t starve alone in my apartment next year.  And instead of running 6 miles…well, I just don’t think I’m going to do that.  But, I digress.

If there is anything that I’ve been learning over the past two months, it is this: planning is both the most important and least important thing you’ll do in life. Sure, you can plan some stuff out—in fact, there are some things in life that should be planned out.  Like retirement plans or other serious “grown up” things like that.  But when it comes to a summer, well, that’s something different entirely. After all, no matter how appealing it may initially seem, you don’t want to waste three months of your life doing nothing. So go out and do something exciting! Even if it’s just one small thing you’ve always wanted to do, now—right now—is the time to do it.  Don’t waste another second.  Summertime should no longer be perceived as a sabbatical from our daily routines, but an extension of what we want to do with our lives and, eventually, of whom we want to become.

During the summer months, it is easy to relax into a “lazy days” routine, and I’m certainly not saying that finding time to relax is not important.  What is important, however, is that we acknowledge that every day of our lives should be spent exploring, dreaming, loving, and learning. Use every spare moment you have to plan some things you want to accomplish during your summer days! And as for the things you can’t plan? Well, just have a little faith and I know that everything will just fall into place.

Read more from Maureen O’Connor here.

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