Like most people at Hopkins, I had a bit of a hell week about three weeks ago. Three big projects, two tests, all within the span of about four days — if you’re a Hopkins student, you probably know that drill.
Usually, my instinct would be to plan ahead, come up with this wonderfully complicated schedule that divided up my time into tiny little chunks, each meticulously assigned to one of the 50 things I had to do that week. Of course, I’d always spend more time worrying about the week ahead and stress-procrastinating instead of actually following it.
I always recognized that this wasn’t a particularly good pattern, and it always ended with me losing way too much sleep the night before the test and getting easy questions wrong because my brain was just too fried.
This time, though, it was different. This time, I spent the entire weekend at Disney World.
One of my roommates from undergrad now works there, so my other roommate and I had been planning on visiting her there for a while. The three of us had been planning this trip for months — flight tickets, park tickets, meal reservations, costumes, everything. When something in our day-to-day lives was frustrating us, we’d just plan for the big Disney trip instead.
When I figured out how much work I had for that week, though, I started panicking. All the reservations were made. We couldn’t move anything. The trip was happening that weekend, and there was no way I wasn’t going. But I could still study, right?
Lines at Disney are long; I could get the lecture slides up on my phone and go over them while I waited. I could wake up early and work on that problem set, stay up late and squeeze every little piece of information I could into my cheat sheet.
The entire week before the trip, I worked incredibly hard. I didn’t procrastinate; I didn’t scroll through social media when I should have been working; I just tried my best to get ahead because I was so worried about that week.
And for the most part, I think I succeeded. The night before I left, multiple people told me that I should get into “vacation mode” now, that I shouldn’t think about the work I had to do.
For the middle of the semester, it was a strange concept. But I thought I’d earned it. I knew I’d have a few bad days once I got back, but that I had spent so long planning and saving for this trip — shouldn’t I get to enjoy it?
So I did.
Occasionally that weekend, I looked at Piazza and freaked out a little bit, but then I just looked up and remembered where I was. And standing in front of a giant castle definitely makes it a lot harder to keep thinking about what is or isn’t on a test.
So we wore our pirate costumes, went on Space Mountain too many times, walked around, went on Tower of Terror way too many times, walked around some more, dressed up like princesses and sipped fancy afternoon tea.... And by the time we got back to our hotel room, I was too tired to even stand, let alone grab my laptop and start studying.
And then before long, this trip we’d been anticipating for so long was just a bunch of incredible memories that I kept replaying in my head on the 5 a.m. flight back to Baltimore that I’d picked so I could be back in time to go to my Monday-morning class.
Then the hell week came, and it was pretty much what you’d expect. I was racing through material and practice tests, forcing my eyes open to try and get just a little more information into my brain. And of course I assumed that if I had stayed in and studied all weekend that I would probably have done better, but I was willing to take that loss.
Here’s the thing, though: Would I really have done any better? Mostly, I feel like I would have just spent the weekend feeling guilty about not doing enough, and then I wouldn’t have been able to focus on anything. But instead, I walked into the tests feeling for once like I’d made the most of the time I did have and that I was ready to go in there and give it my best shot.
One of my roommate’s favorite quotes is from Winnie the Pooh — “Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”
Makes a lot of sense.
It’s not like I never took time off during my past four years as an undergrad. I went to games, watched movies, ordered takeout — but I don’t think I ever managed to shed that feeling of guilt. There was always this little nagging voice in my head telling me that I should be doing work, I should be trying to get ahead.
I don’t think I realized until now that no matter what I’m actually doing, it’s not really a break until I forgive myself for taking it, until I don’t feel that guilt anymore, until I actually go into it with a clear mind and tell myself that I’m going to go do absolutely nothing — and that’s okay.