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The benefit of downtime

There comes a time in your life when you start to ask questions about what you want to do next. Do you want to spend the time and money going to a university when there is no guarantee of a job when you come out? Is getting into the industry and working your way up a better bet? Do you want to go to grad school and continue on after you get a bachelor’s degree? Get just a master’s or aim higher for the Ph.D? These are questions that everyone asks themselves about how to proceed down a career path, and each person makes their own choice; there is no one right answer.

Before starting grad school, I listened closely to what the grad students around me said, how they worked, and a lot of their stories. As an undergrad, I was amazed how well they coordinated their schedule. They had to teach class, grade papers, get research done, and still had time to go out for a social life. As I listened, I realized they didn’t have it all together like it seemed they did.

I once heard a Ph.D. student bemoan the feeling of guilt he felt for going out to see a movie instead of working. I heard others claim they drink alcohol to “just get through the crap.” Still, my determination to make it to and through grad school didn’t falter. I kept telling myself that I’m different. As a work-a-holic, I’d be happy. At least that is what I thought then.

In my second year of grad school, I realized the benefit of downtime. Not even a work-a-holic attitude can get one through completely. With all the papers to read, lab work to do, and questions to answer as they come up, you really get worn down after just a term of a completely dedicated work mode. It was after the first term that I could more readily identify with the advice I was given while looking at the possibility of grad school: start drinking, coffee or alcohol, it doesn’t matter; you’re gonna need it.

Drinking is not my style. I didn’t know what my style was, but I knew that being what I might perceive as unproductive was not it. So, in a fit of anger at a particularly difficult homework problem, I picked up my grandmother’s crochet hooks, a ball of yarn, and a book to teach me how to work things. While sipping the cup of coffee, I worked my way through a single blissful hour. My mind cleared, and somehow within that hour, the answer to the problem was clear.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. A grad student, business person, layperson, every day blue-collar worker, academic all have the same stresses, just a different flavour. Downtime has a purpose, whether it is a film, drink, social night out, or an addictive hobby. It isn’t just for grad students, either. We all have stressful lives and could use an hour or two off once in a while. These moments of unwinding are all that is needed to make life’s challenges a lot more manageable. Keep that in mind while you build yourselves and your businesses up. You’ll not only last longer, but you’ll be happier in the long run.

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