The Summer of Unicorns

Thirteen days is not enough of a break between semesters. Especially not when your last break was also only thirteen days. Especially when the longest break you’ve gotten for the last three years is three weeks in December. These are breaks from class, mind you, not from work. Only going to work is like a vacation.

I remember, when I finished my art degree, telling myself that I would never, ever, in a million years, go to school again. I felt like I’d just crawled across the finish line of a marathon (something that I could never do, so you marathon runners, just replace this metaphor with something that sounds impossible to you…you know…like running across the entire country or swimming from New York to England…something along those lines). And that feeling didn’t go away like I thought it would. I remembered, vividly, how burnt out I had felt for a long, long time. And then, apparently, I forgot. Because here I am.

Thankfully, with four semesters to go, I’m not as burnt out yet as I was when I graduated last time. But I can feel it creeping up. Knowing that class starts again next Wednesday is kind of like that feeling that happens at the gym and you think you’re about to finish your last rep and the trainer* says, “Okay, just five more!” and you look at them like they’ve just shot your dog. “No…no…it just can’t be,” you think.

If you're looking for some really cheesy photos, try doing a Google image search for "personal trainer."

If you’re looking for some really cheesy photos, try doing a Google image search for “personal trainer.”

The thing keeping me from being completely forlorn is knowing that this is the last hopelessly inadequate thirteen-day break I will encounter before I graduate. My next break will be a nice, roomy three-week holiday break and then…drumroll please…my very first summer break in FOUR YEARS. Can you imagine my enthusiasm? The image of it in my mind is like frolicking in slow motion through a field of wildflowers and unicorns…unicorns that are blowing bubbles and offering trays of free cookies. Oh my god – my vision of next summer is a Lisa Frank trapper keeper.

But wait, you say, aren’t you doing an internship next summer? Well yes I am! An internship. ONLY an internship! I’m giddy! I’ll be learning new things, meeting new people, and most importantly, not doing any homework.

What is better than a human jumping for joy? A sheep jumping for joy!

What is better than a human jumping for joy? A sheep jumping for joy!

When I first came back to school and took classes through the summer, I would wonder why so few students did the same. They could finish school faster, and really, what else did they need to be doing? I’ve changed my mind. Brains need a break. School is not like work. With luck, work provides us with challenges, opportunities to learn new things and the chance to develop new processes and systems. That’s what makes work rewarding and what motivates us. But most of the time work is spent doing things we already know how to do, doing them well and improving upon them. The learning is gradual and incremental.

School, on the other hand, is like scaling mountains. I’m not sure how useful it is to pump this much information into one brain so quickly. Everything I’ve learned in the last three years is a blur. I immerse myself in a topic for four months and know it like the back of my hand, convinced I could never forget it and then the next semester comes along, and poof…it’s gone. Differential Equations? What is a differential equation? Strange, I got a 4.0 in that class. Thermodynamics? I kicked that class’s ass. But now? Hmm. I think it has something to do with steam and energy. Right?

They say if you don’t use it you lose it. I’d like to have more time to use the things I’m learning. From what I hear, most of what I’m learning I’ll never even use in my career, but it should be nice to use at least some of my skills and improve on them. It’s something that’s been satisfying in my current work and I think it will be true of my future career too. I’m excited to finally have a summer to let things sink in. Give my worn-out brain a little break. Let it enjoy the unicorns and eat some free cookies.

*No, I don’t currently have a personal trainer. My life is not that posh. I have, however, had one before, and they do sneak in those extra reps, and you do look at them like they shot your dog.

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2 thoughts on “The Summer of Unicorns

  1. I liked your description of the differences between school and work, and their respective influences on brain load. I think you’re right!

    It’s difficult to recall which made me smile more: The Trapper Keeper reference, or the sheep photo. Either way, thanks 🙂

    I know your breaks are short, but I hope there are moments in each one that seem transcendent and relaxing. You’re making an incredible amount of progress. Too bad you can’t go back in time and personally give pre-engin-school Steph the perfect pep talk, but I guess she didn’t really need it after all.

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