I don’t know what to do.
Since I started at Calvin, I have become accustomed to life without them. Seven days a week, my life was filled with some sort of combination of work, class, and homework. When I led a Rangeela group for two years, it piled on more hours to an already packed schedule. A day off usually just meant times when this combination didn’t add up to seven hours in a day.
Occasionally, trips home or somewhere like Chicago would offer a break. Holiday breaks didn’t necessarily mean an abundance of days off, either. There were a few breaks I didn’t go home for, there were a few breaks where I worked when I was home.
After graduating and getting a full-time job, I kept the part-time job I had at Calvin, and when the full-time job fell apart, looking for jobs became a part-time job. On LinkedIn alone, I have twenty-three pages of jobs I’ve applied to, mostly without receiving any response, and pages of saved jobs for which I never got around to actually completing the application.
In the last fourteen months, I have added three more jobs and started two YouTube channels, without subtracting the initial part-time job. These additions have been welcomed, from the stability of a part-time job writing about the supply chain to writing about my favorite bad baseball player.
But as the hours have increased, I find myself some days shifting between each job for the entire day. The shorter days are when I only work on one thing. I’ve found that days off don’t exist for me. If it’s not one job, it’s two, and if it’s not two jobs, it’s three.
So when I find myself in a day with nothing on the schedule, I don’t know what to do. Sure, there are small chores, like straightening around the house (I still need to clean the bathroom), doing laundry, or going grocery shopping. But once those are off the list and it’s still mid-afternoon, I start to get restless.
It’s not that I’m against watching something or doing something else. I’m not all about that grind. I’ve sunk hours into playing GeoGuessr, Sporcle, and MLB the Show. I watch YouTube, shows, and sometimes movies regularly. But when I can watch a two-hour movie in the winter and the sun’s still up when it’s over, I then feel the need to start blocking out the rest of the evening as well.
It’s not that I’m a serial planner, either. I hardly think a month ahead, much less a year. At first, this restlessness didn’t make sense to me. Why does it bother me so much when I don’t have anything going on?
The answer is, of course, the habit of constantly being busy. For the last half-decade plus, my life has been defined by always having something on the schedule that when there’s nothing left to do, I feel guilty for being unproductive.
In one way, this is good for me. Feeling guilty for being “unproductive” offsets my procrastinative tendencies. This, in turn, allows me to get by in life on a day-to-day basis, instead of failing down a downward spiral.
At the same time, however, having the looming feeling that not doing anything is a terrible thing is not the healthiest state of mind, either.
My initial conclusion for this piece has changed during the course of this writing. I had initially planned to end this month’s post by stating that I need to let myself enjoy the days off, guilt-free. I think we could all use this once in a while.
However, as I’ve worked through this, I’ve realized that my inability to take guilt-free days is tied to my struggle to separate. So much of my day, whether working or not, is taken over by filler. I wrote this over a span of two weeks and there’s no telling how many times I switched tabs, devices, and even tasks before coming to this conclusion.
In order for me to enjoy days off more, I need space from the things that give me the feeling of off-time. This is unvetted advice for myself and probably not for others, but I think it’s worth a shot.
Mitchell Barbee graduated from Calvin University with a B.A. in writing in 2021. Originally from Boone, North Carolina, he is currently residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He enjoys hanging out with the few friends who stayed, wearing grey hoodies, and hoping that he doesn’t get sucked into the nightly wormhole of watching a baseball game.