The End of the Semester and the Horror of Free Time

Education, Philosophy — By on December 11, 2012 at 7:00 am

It’s that time. The end of semester.

A time of cookies and coffee and rest and parties and papers. Time for cozy pajamas and creating lists of all the books I’ve wanted to read for the last few months, but haven’t had the time.

It’s time. Free time.

The first few days after every semester, it hits like a wave of acid across the ground I’ve been standing on. What? I have time? I can choose what I do? I…I don’t have to write 15 pages by the end of this week…There’s nothing to procrastinate from?

What does one do with this “freedom” thing?

I tend to follow a pretty predictable pattern.

First is the “Finally Stage.” I finally get to do all the behaviors I longed for when the homework kept me nailed to the desk – watching movies, painting my nails, sleeping. After a few days immersed in the activities I use to procrastinate, I’ll get bored of them. Some things are only fun if you’re using them as an excuse not to do something else (see Youtube).

Then, there’s the “Self-Syllabus Stage.” Gathering all the scraps and notes wherein I’ve jotted titles of interesting books, I compile a list of 1,753 works I will read over the next three days, and frame a plan for accomplishing this task.

Immediately, I return to the “Finally Stage,” now that there’s something to procrastinate from.

Slowly, the list fades out of expectation. That’s when the procrastination ends. The planning ends. The over-use and under-use of freedom swings to its natural stop, and the reaction to the end of the semester fades away. The motivations and activities morph. Then, one day, I pick up a book because I want to, without a list to check off. That’s the moment freedom blooms – when I can choose the once stressful activities without being stressed. When I can read a book without watching the clock, or when I can get out of bed early without the pressure of class.

Freedom is a terrifying thing. It requires more from you than sets of rules and syllabi, and it leaves you responsible if things go wrong. But, after the transition shock, when the activities unfreedom forced on you become valid choices, again, and you don’t need to impose unfreedom on yourself to accomplish them, genuine, non-reactive freedom feels clear and fresh and worth all the risk and effort it requires.

Image via Flickr.


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