Taking Time Off – Burn Out

This summer I am taking some time off from my regular forms of labor. I defended my Ph.D. about a month ago, submitted my final paperwork about two weeks ago, and now I am finally free from all that is related to academia…kind of. I still have a few papers to write and some wonderful consulting work that needs to be finished. But all in all, I’m relaxing my obligations. I am working no more than 6 hours a day. When July rolls around, I will be completely free from work until my new job starts in August.

The academic push towards “productivity” never made sense to me. When I talked to my colleagues in my graduate program, they would tell me that they work most weekends and spend late weeknights stuck in the lab. Some of my friends were in lab so often, it was hard to get them to take a 30-minute break for a coffee walk. But I rarely worked like that. I almost never worked on weekends and it was rare to see me anywhere near main campus after 6pm. But because I was surrounded by this culture, I always felt like I was underperforming, like I wasn’t putting in enough hours to be a successful grad student.

It took me a few years to realize that my perception wasn’t true. Rather, my prioritization of rest was the means to my productivity. I was getting just as much, if not more work done, than some of my colleagues. Spending three-day weekends hiking in the Sierras or hanging out on the beach or biking around Orange County gave me that time away from my work to feel energized about my work. And unsuprisingly, my best ideas for research came outside of work. A nighttime stroll on a trail gave me my first paper idea. My dissertation questions came to me while I was sketching and sipping tea at a coffee shop. My friend Nil said he had his idea for his dissertation while hiking Mt.Langley for the second time (we hiked it together with our friend Lina during his first ascent). My experiences have made me a firm believer that the best ideas for work come outside of work.

All this is to say is that I need rest to function. Not just a long nap or one day off, but full weekends of space to recover and re-energize. Now that my Ph.D. is done, I feel like I need a lot more recovery time. The last few weeks of dissertation revisions really burned me out. Being so close to the finish line made me more desperate to escape. It became hard to concentrate and I was unmotivated to write. A few weeks ago, it was so bad that I felt completely uninterested in any of my work. I had absolutely no drive or care for the outputs of my labor – and that scared me. It made me feel like I wasn’t fit for the role I worked so hard to train for. But really, I was (and still am) just completely burnt out.

So I’m taking a long vacation, starting with an adventure every weekend of June, and even longer week-long adventures in July.

I’ll be taking a 6-day backpacking trip in the Sierras, meandering my way from west to east in a place I can only describe as paradise. I will be soaking in the sunsets of Joshua Tress with beloved friends who will be in Californa for their honeymoon. I will be learning how to scuba dive off the shores of Laguna Beach with all the glorious Sheephead, Garibaldi, Halibut, and California Spiny Lobster. I will be celebrating another couple’s love by being a bridesmaid, and traveling back to the Sierras with another couple to show them the granite walls that make the cathedrals of Yosemite Valley.

Once July rolls around, I will be driving up the Pacific Coast Highway, taking my time until I make a right for Crater Lake. I will then fly to New Mexico to (hopefully) work on an organic farm for two weeks while spending time with my partner in Los Alamos. Lastly, I’m taking a week-long sailing course, spending multiple days and nights training to be a certified catamaran sailor.

Then, and only then, will I be ready to come back to “productivity”

I cannot wait for the weeks to come. It may not seem like “rest” in the typical sense, but it’s the kind of rest I need.