January 27, 2011

Take It Easy

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Many Cornellians take advantage of opportunities over Winter Break to expand their horizons. My friends returned to Ithaca sharing stories about internships, vacations and academic programs. For me, however, the time off took on a new meaning. In embarking on a four-week staycation, I rediscovered the importance of family and true relaxation. Too often, in the hustle and bustle of a Cornell semester, we lose sight of the need to reclaim our youth and leave time unscheduled for, well, nothing in particular.

My four weeks at home were restful and allowed ample time to spend with family and friends. To be fair, I did visit family in Pittsburgh (Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go!), but the trip was far from a vacation. For part of the week, my grandfather was hospitalized. Visiting him made me realize there are some things in life that you just can’t schedule. I cherished the time I spent with him and other members of my family doing such everyday things as walking my dog, eating dinner and sitting around reading. These activities, both in Pittsburgh and at home on Long Island, were rewarding in that they allowed me to clear my head and escape schedules and obligations. I was again young and again living life without an agenda.

At Cornell, it is very easy to get caught up in reading, mixers and DC++. Every day brings another meeting, class or due date. There is something disheartening about receiving syllabi on the first days of classes and realizing your next 15 weeks have been carefully mapped out and plotted with assignments, term papers and prelims. On top of that, the nature of second semester social schedules means many more planned mixers and fewer nights clear and flexible. Finally, the start of the semester also brings with it club emails that inundate inboxes. This lethal combination means that perhaps, ironically, you have to schedule in free time. I don’t suggest that you should actually make a note in your calendar, but rather time should be left for relaxation and unplanned diversions.

Everyone engages in different activities that make them happy and allow them to get away from it all. Working out, watching T.V. and playing video games are some conventional choices. Perhaps more radically, a friend and I enjoy taking walks around Bebee Lake (even in the frigid cold). In any case, the end justifies the means. I encourage everybody to take some time  to do something relaxing you enjoy. I discovered during my staycation that many of the things I enjoy most in life are simple daily rituals we don’t usually make time for at Cornell. There’s no grand plan, trip or alcoholic beverage involved but rather the opportunity to be of a clear mind. Every student has at least a little time to relax; in the grand scheme of things, spending a little time on a diversion will allow you to truly refocus and make the most of your Cornell experience.

It is especially important to retain the staycation mindset when thinking of plans for the upcoming summer. For underclassmen such as me, the need to get an internship or career-related experience may not be as great as you think. If that’s what you want to do, all the more power to you. I am more inclined, however, to return to my prior summer job as a day camp counselor. This may not be the best resume builder, but the rest of my life will certainly be spent gaining credentials and the like. Surely, career-oriented summer jobs and programs will simulate future years of stress and little free time rather than provide a much-needed break. At least consider doing something this summer that doesn’t involve pressure, deadlines and a computer screen but rather allows you to escape your impending fate.

The career-oriented focus of our University is a double-edged sword in that it affords us valuable experiences at the expense of our youth. While we enter Cornell wanting to be doctors, lawyers and business executives, we are not actually any of those things — yet. For now we are simply students, and as students we are able to take some liberties with work and responsibility that we will not be able to enjoy once in the working world. For me, it took a staycation to realize we are really kids who just need to relax once in a while. The timeless, ritualistic pursuits I took part in are only a few of the things you can do that you probably didn’t write into your academic planner. We will all have many years ahead to spend countless hours on projects and travel the world, but our years on East Hill are perhaps the last we will have to do whatever it is we enjoy.

Jon Weinberg is a sophomore in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at jweinberg@cornellsun.com. In Focus appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Jon Weinberg