Summertime Sadness

“What are you doing this summer?”

This question stresses me out, as much as I pretend that it doesn’t. Other people seem to know what they’re doing, whether that’s an internship, research, a DukeEngage program, taking summer classes, a study abroad program, or working. I don’t want to pretend that everyone has their life together and that everything is picture perfect because I’m aware of the internal struggles that don’t appear on the surface level of people’s lives. However, there still is the presence of “effortless perfection” that’s hard to ignore. I didn’t apply for an international DukeEngage program, nor do I plan on applying for any of the domestic programs. I haven’t really looked into summer programs yet, but I’ll probably spend a good part of my winter break on finding potential summer plans related to academics, extracurricular activities, or career-related programs.

On a larger level, I feel lost because I don’t know what I want to major in exactly or what I want to do with my life after college. Knowing these details would give me a better sense of direction. If I want to pursue the pre-med track, I could do research or shadow a doctor back at home. If I want to work in the non-profit sector, I could look into volunteering with non-profit organizations. But I don’t know, so my options for the summer seem so unclear.

This pressure to effectively use my summer time wisely makes me question the wisdom behind it. Why is it the “smart” decision to work or volunteer, and a waste to spend the summer simply traveling, staying at home, or catching up with friends? What’s wrong with taking some time to figure out what I want to do with my life?

The answer seems to lie in the manipulation of temporality in the service of perpetuating capitalistic mechanisms through the medium of human bodies and psyches. A second squandered is considered wasted because I am conditioned to squeeze  efficiency and usefulness out of every second afforded to me in my short life span. I’ve seen the metaphorical analogy of time to money, which is absurd to me as time really isn’t money and this comparison makes the two more inextricably tied.

Upperclassmen that I’ve talked to have reassured me that it’s okay to not know what I’m doing this summer or even to not do anything academically or career-wise important. However, there is an underlying implication that this is acceptable because I’m a first-year. Some of them suggest that I use it to stay close with my friends back home because after sophomore year, most students are busy across the globe doing their own thing usually to build capital for their future.

I’m sure I’ll figure something out as I unwind from the stress of finals and the end of my first semester here at Duke. Until then, however, I’ll sit here, studying away in the Au Bon Pain section of West Union or in the Chinese Reading Room of Lilly Library and worrying about my future and how my decisions will affect its shape.