Time off: How to be productively unproductive

Because if I can use a Calvin and Hobbes picture, you best believe I’m going to.

By: Tom Westerholm

When I finished my first year of college, I needed to take some time off from school. I realized that, other than being a god of the rock and roll universe, I had no real plans for my life, and no idea where I should go. I had a vague notion that I wanted to be a writing and rhetoric major, but I didn’t know what I should do with that major after college. In fact, life after college in general appeared to be a hazy, indistinct alternate reality; one that was approaching with alarming speed. I wasn’t ready to figure out what my career should be, let alone what my major should be.

So in a weird, paradoxical way, I made a responsible choice to drop out of school and join a touring band. It gave me time to decide, to find myself. It gave me time to do cool things I wouldn’t have done otherwise. All in all, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

If you are considering taking some time off from school, I have five pieces of advice for you, based off my experiences.

Find a flexible job that you don’t hate.

This is easier said than done. I’ve been working at Walmart for nearly four years to fund my various activities, and it all started because when I needed time off to tour, Walmart was willing to give it to me. But you will become a lot less jaded and angry than I currently am if you can find a job that doesn’t insult your every sensibility. You also want a job, however, that won’t completely tie you down to a single place.

When it all boils down, flexibility is most important if you want to take full advantage of your time off. Why? I’ll tell you in the final rule.

Search for your passions.

Time off is great, and the first time you see people going back to school without you, it’s an incredibly liberating feeling. But if you are planning to go back to school at any point, simply finding an entry-level job to work for a year isn’t going to do much for you, besides putting a small amount of padding in your bank account. This is an opportunity to sit down and figure out what you are good at and what you love. For me, I re-discovered my intense love for basketball and my passion for writing. For some reason, combining the two had never really occurred to me.

Find your passions, and find a way that your passions can make you money.

Develop your passions.

Again, working is good. You need the money, especially if you are going to go back to school. But if you are a writer, you need to write. If you are a photographer, you need to play with photoshop. Whatever your passion is, you aren’t going to improve on it without a ton of practice.

Malcolm Gladwell says that it requires roughly 10,000 hours to become an elite performer at anything, whether that is to become the best violinist, or the best basketball player. You don’t have to put in 10,000 hours, but you need to put in significant amounts of time to become good at what you are passionate about.

Have an exit strategy.

Not being in school can feel a little too good. Make sure that if it’s even a little bit possible that you might want to go back, you can do so.

Do stuff.

This is the most important thing. You are free! Don’t waste your time just working for a year or, worse, playing video games and sitting on your parent’s couch. Do something memorable, something interesting, something that will create memories you will treasure forever.

I came away from my time off with a clearer idea of what I wanted out of life and a more mature mindset regarding school. My grades have shot up and my resumé is becoming more impressive by the day. If you are struggling with your life’s direction, this might be a good way to go.


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