There was a time when summer meant freedom and restraint-free fun in the sun.
It was symbolized by the stereotypical image of the clock hitting 3 p.m., and a bevy of kids bursting through ugly metal school doors into radiant sunshine; summer represented youth.
For two months, darkness didn’t represent curfew, throngs of mid-sized bicycles invaded every suburban lawn, and healthy eating became a figment of school days past.
But then you grew up.
Suddenly in post secondary-education, “summer” begins at the end of April with the conclusion of the dreaded exam period. Now the warmer months have become an extension of what most of us have already been doing: working.
Whether it’s taking an extra class to get ahead, or working multiple jobs to obtain some resemblance of financial security for the coming year, summer definitely looks different. I mean yes, there is still fun to be had. Consecutive days off becomes a godsend, which you may spend recuperating in bed watching Orange Is The New Black or having a few drinks with friends at the cheapest bar you can find on a Thursday night.
But something’s changed. The air feels different. The crispness of waking up to Saturday morning cartoons is gone, replaced with rolling out of bed after a night out, hoping to make it to work on time. But when does work become too much? Is it balancing three jobs while sacrificing your social life? Or is it shirking familial responsibilities to pick up an extra shift?
The line between enjoying yourself and tending to the garden that is being an adult is sometimes a herculean task. We worry about making enough money so we don’t have to worry about it as much come the fall semester. We make time for our parents and certain friends while others fall by the wayside. It is during these summers, these four years (plus) that many of us learn the hard way about priorities.
Yes we’re busy during the school year basically doing the same thing: balancing school, work and a social life, but somehow then, it’s different. As if there’s a common understanding that during the academic months, it’s okay to not have time to come home every other weekend. It’s the understanding that during the school year we’re working towards a goal more important than making social plans.
But I get the feeling that expectations change during the warmer months. A lot of us still hold on to the idea that summer represents free time. Priorities are supposed to shift away from what we’ve accomplished to the things we missed out on. As if during these months, we’re supposed to make up for lost time.
And maybe there was once a time we were able make up for lost time. Not worried about getting enough sleep; those long nights where you competed with friends as to who could stay up the longest. Or the ever-reverent “staying up to watch the sunrise” cliché, but getting away with it because the only thing you were worried about was how to waste the hours tomorrow. Which friends you were going hang out with, whose cottage you’re invited to and languishing in the local mall to escape the ever present heat. But now, like watching a favourite movie from your childhood, you realize how dated it all seems.
The common response to working multiple jobs during your 20s is “good for you,” as if there’s admiration in the struggle. And working is good, making money is good and knowing you have the ability to provide for yourself is certainly rewarding. But also know it isn’t everything. Know that throughout these warmer summer months, and even into the school year – working isn’t everything.
There’s something to be said for stopping to smell the roses, as they say. Taking the time to enjoy being this age (20+) and having few crucial responsibilities. And while no one’s saying working multiple jobs is easy, it certainly isn’t the hardest task you’ll ever have to manage.
Taking on more responsibility is a part of the growing process – but so is understanding how much is too much. Weighing yourself down with too many jobs or other tasks to the point where quality of work or your health suffers isn’t responsible either. There’s a difference between balancing a busy schedule effectively, and having everything implode in on itself because you’ve taken too much on. While it shouldn’t be used as an excuse, summer can be the time where you’re able to figure all of this out safely. A time where a misstep doesn’t turn into a complete head-over-heels failure.
So know that it’s okay to pass on that extra shift if it means making time for friends you haven’t seen, or giving in to your mother’s demands to come home for a weekend. There’s nothing wrong with sleeping in and reading a good book. While working is important, a bi-weekly check to sustain the crappy eating habits you’ve picked up isn’t everything.
Know that you’re allowed to go out and have fun, the jobs you have and the world you know will still be there when you wake up the next morning. I’d like to think there’s truth in the words J.M Barrie once spoke: “If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I’ll never grow up.”
So work those multiple jobs and make as much money as you can – but also, indulge yourself. Climb that tree, read that book and watch that sunrise… because no one ever said being responsible couldn’t be fun.