Making the best of uselessness

The semester is over. My tests are taken, my papers are written, and my paperwork for next semester is in order. After I’ve worked so hard this semester, why do I still feel guilty for sitting down with a beer and spacing out for a while? I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a problem, but this restlessness, this inability to feel comfortable in a void of priorities is a problem that many “problem-oriented people” feel.

“Problem-oriented people” is a term I just coined about a minute ago, but I feel that it’s fairly accurate. I’m willing to bet that everyone has a little of this ingredient in their personality, but some feel it more intensely than others. Basically, the feeling is one of riding out the momentum after an intense period of work. For the college student, that period of work is divided into semesters. After juggling an ever-changing list of priorities over a period of four months, suddenly a slate wiped clean is jarring.

When I was young, I never wanted to choose an occupation – no fireman fantasies or presidential aspirations for me. Despite my lack of an overarching plan, I was always busy with something. Whether it was schoolwork or writing fiction on my own, some project or another always consumed my thinking and occupied my time. Frankly, I liked being busy; I had to make a conscious effort to change gears and tell myself to do nothing.

This trend continued and escalated in college, culminating in classes, The Stentor, and a slew of jobs. But when those restraints are lifted, I find myself disoriented, treading water, trying to find something to do. Many of my friends feel this way too; we need problems to solve in order to feel useful.

Problem-oriented people are niche-driven. We strive to find a job that we’re good at in life and then tackle it over and over again. Another manifestation of this state of mind is empty nest syndrome. Many parents work extremely hard, devoting all of their time and energy to rearing children. Finally, when those children leave home, parents find themselves with an overabundance of time and a sense of loss. For some, the loss is so extreme that they must re-evaluate who they are and how they want to spend their days now that they don’t have the structure and demands of children.

No matter whether the sufferer is a student or parent, there is one way to remedy the situation. Do something! Anything! For me personally, this involves completing some old projects I had forgotten about or finishing reading the book I had started over the summer. For parents who find themselves with more time on their hands, maybe they should consider a pet. The point is to keep busy. Find a problem to solve. Typically, the holidays provide an unusual variety of dilemmas. Don’t suddenly find yourself without a purpose; define one for yourself and then fulfill it.

I’m not exactly sure where I’m going to start – whether it be with a project or a book or something different entirely. The holidays bring with them a lot of eggnog, and it’s not going to drink itself!

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