In the weeks leading up to graduation, many of my classmates were interviewing and negotiating full-time jobs, for many their first salaried, benefited position. A few big life changes hung in the balance, and I couldn’t apply for anything until I knew what direction I was headed in. Plus, after three tough years and preparing for my licensure exams, I wasn’t ready to rush into a job.
This felt unorthodox. Shouldn’t I want to start paying off school loan debt and immediately get to work on earning my supervision hours for full licensure? Was it reckless to take a break? In a meeting with one of my professors, I told him that I was thinking about delaying my job search until mid-to-late summer because I wanted a break. He paused and half smiled, like he didn’t expect such a declaration from an anxious overachiever. “That’s actually a great idea,” he said. “I fully support that.”
It’s been about a month and a half and since I graduated, and I am still not working in counseling. In part because my husband and I are moving out of state soon, and the details of that move are not confirmed, and an additional circumstance may keep us in Chicago just a bit longer. We’ll know more at the end of this month, and we are for sure leaving by the end of July. Till then, I have to wait.
For now, my days are loose. I still work part-time at my retail job, which is fine but increasingly frustrating. I only work three to four times a week, so there are big gaps for me to do all that relaxing I dreamt about when I was working three jobs, going to school, and studying for my exams.
Occasionally, I leisure. I take naps and go to the beach. I’ve read a few books and booked social events. Other times, I clean the house or run errands, trying to cross off that “when I get to it” to-do list. I create little tasks that be pointed to as proof that I did something that day.
I also worry. A lot.
Who am I to think I can survive without a full-time job? Will there be any jobs when I start looking? Why do I think I deserve a break? My husband is also working retail at the moment, so it’s not like we are comfortably supported on one salary. I am scared that I will be behind others, that we will run out of money, that my laziness/selfishness is creating a colossal mistake that can’t be undone. I can’t help but compare myself to my peers, to think some how I’ve failed in wanting respite.
That anxiety, though, is rooted in narrative about being productive and finding our worth in work. Our entire culture sees work as success and not working as lazy, even if there are good and specific reasons one doesn’t work. If we aren’t working and making money, then what are we doing? One of the most critical and difficult jobs out there is motherhood, but because that isn’t paid labor we devalue it. I am not taking care of a child, rather, just pausing while I figure things out. Because there is no paycheck or specific accolades related to it, it seems unimportant. And foolish.
This morning, thinking about my day, I started to panic that there wasn’t enough to it. I had planned to run and do some mental health exercises, such as meditating and journaling, before going off to work for a few hours. However, I started scanning for other ways to fill my schedule. I needed more, something to prove that I was productive. I couldn’t read or watch a movie. I had too much leisure time already.
Yet, that wasn’t the point of this break. I didn’t decide to take a few months off so I could fill my schedule with low-priority task items just so I could feel less guilty about how I spent my days. No, I wanted to truly rest and find some joy. I wanted to soak in my accomplishments. I wanted to find balance before moving into that next phase.
But, I can’t do that if I am waking up anxious every morning that I am being too cavalier with my time and that I am going to run out of money?
Reality is, financially, I am fine. I can’t go six more months without work, but I am fine for now. And that’s all I need, fine.
It’s hard to shake these capitalistic values of work and earning money because they are so engrained into our culture, messages we’ve received our entire lifetime. However, they aren’t serving me anymore, and they are not the values I want to carry into work as a therapist. I aspire to help my clients find pleasure and relaxation because it will make them better people. Same for me. I wanted this break so I can take naps and walks at 2 p.m. with my husband. My body craved this time for beaching and reading. And, it’s a rare opportunity that we are give then the space to take these breaks, and I guess my foolishness would come out if I did not seize it.
Being productive can take on different meanings. For me, being productive now means writing or finishing a book. It means being silly and chasing after my dob. It means stopping and allowing myself rest, knowing I do deserve it and it will propel me to what’s next.