At times, it can feel like we are expected to go from 100 to 0 without any in-between.
In great literary and cinematic thrillers, the consumer is intrigued at the outset, the plot is jam-packed with twists and turns, and then boom! The story ends and you get a couple of pages of epilogue or a few more scenes to wrap up and resolve everything. When the pacing is too slow, things get boring and when there is too much after the climax, we say that the plot “dragged on.” We want it all… and then we want it to end. A semester in graduate school works much in the same way.
Unless you’re a freshman in college, the semester starts out with little introduction. You have your classes and sometimes you are expected to have completed readings by day one. The coursework builds up over a few weeks, midterms hit, and then the unholy trifecta of final exams, papers, and assignments crop up. Then, just like that, the calendar changes from Friday to Saturday and your days that were filled and saturated with work and study is empty. You no longer have weekly commitments; nothing is due; you are temporarily (and somewhat forcibly, especially if you live on campus) disconnected from the institution that was an all-consuming presence in your life in the last few months.
When the semester ends, there isn’t a transition period where you can just “chill” and enjoy your university environment. As a college student this was an especially sad reality for me. All of the events that were available during the semester like college trivia night and socials closed with the end of the semester. Most colleges have hard move-out dates and unless you are a graduating senior, those deadlines are usually no more than 24-hours after the conclusion of the last final exam.
Life can take many forms; however, it seems that the classic “school, work, retire” narrative follows a similar 100 to 0 model. Just like an exciting book, we progress quickly from zero-years old to working age. We begin to work, and we are “expected” to find a full-time job. We work and work full-time (level 100) until retirement (level 0). On some of my hikes with local meet-up groups, I met with many adults who were early into their retirement years (more here). A common theme between these individuals is that they wanted to do more. Without work as a center of gravity, retirement can feel like a directionless void. A few adults of retirement age that I encountered confessed that they hike with these social groups multiple times a week (if not every day), because they are desperate for things to do. Not everyone feels this way, of course, but I would not be surprised if the sentiment is a common one.
I often feel a little disoriented or at a loss when things abruptly end, so I can’t imagine what it’s like to transition from decades of work to—poof—no work at all. Perhaps, a transition can be helpful here. According to a London-based study, “the likelihood that someone will suffer from clinical depression actually goes up by about 40% after retirement.” This could be because someone’s time, energy, and—to an extent—“sense of self” is wrapped up in one’s employment. In this way, retirement comes with both loss and gain.
All in all, as my semester wraps up as quickly as (but less dramatically than) a Hollywood blockbuster, I’m thinking about what to do as this sub-chapter of my life slams closed. With a gaping hole where (inordinately challenging) classes used to be (more here), I’m excited to figure out all the ways that I can fill out my time this summer.
Wishing you all happy endings and smooth transitions.