As Dean’s Date drew closer in December and finals were mere days away, all Princeton students could agree on one thing: it was time for a break. After consecutive weeks of intense studying and little sleep, the thought of seemingly endless weeks of unstructured time without any assignments could not be more appealing. However, while a lengthy winter break is wonderful in theory, in reality for some students, it can bring its own challenges.
Upon returning to school, I noticed how both myself and many of my classmates remarked that we “did nothing” over break and characterized the past several weeks as “unproductive,” casting them in a somewhat negative light. Why do we tend to see these supposedly restful days as, to some extent, worthless?
Perhaps, as we quickly transition from writing lengthy final papers into the wee hours of the night to binging a Netflix series in those same hours, the contrast between our highly productive reading period and our relatively “unproductive” winter break is amplified. Though this contrast may lead us to cast doubt on the benefits of the lengthy break, it is important to realize that unique value exists in slowing down and easing up. There is significant merit in carving out time for sheer leisure and recreation, whether that be watching Netflix, reading a book, cooking, or any other hobby that falls to the wayside during the busy semester.
Without a sufficient break where we actually allow ourselves to take our minds off of school and incessant productivity, our ability to be productive will be inevitably impacted when we need it the most. Thus, instead of viewing the “doing nothing” of our winter break days as falling short of some lofty work-related ambitions, we should recast them in a different light. These days are important precisely because of their nothingness; they serve as a blank canvas, giving us space to explore new subjects, take up new pastimes, and connect with people we have not seen in months.
Many students may feel differently and choose to keep up with their high level of productivity over winter break by pursuing internships, jobs, research opportunities, or personal projects. These activities all hold great value and I commend those who have the inspiration and energy to engage in these activities over break. However, for students like myself who find themselves losing steam as the semester comes to an end, it is important to give ourselves time to reset and unwind so that we can be present and productive during the semester.
It is true that too much of anything is never a good thing. If all 52 weeks of the year were filled with endless relaxation, then it might be worth reassessing how we structure our time. However, winter break is only a select few weeks of unwinding that interrupt stressful months of burnout-inducing study. They should be spent in ways that permit a true break — without any guilt associated.
Our vacation days will inevitably and necessarily look different than those during reading period. Before winter break I could not even recall the last time I sat and watched a movie in its entirety, but over the break, I did this many times. Rather than viewing this in a negative light and criticizing myself for consuming too much television and not enough “highbrow” literature, I have realized how important it is for me and other students to regard such extensive yet much-needed leisure as a unique opportunity.
While the literature is not going away, the nearly boundless free time is. And while we are often convinced that we must fill our days with impressive and fascinating agendas, sometimes what we need most is some bona fide rest.
Ava Milberg is a sophomore from New York City. She can be reached at email@example.com.