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What's Next?

Spring Break Isn't All Good

By Ian Ybarra

features columnist

My friend Paul carried a gray messenger bag and the weight of the world on his shoulders as he trudged towards his dorm one afternoon last March. Spring break was upon him, and he was a wreck.

He still had to resolve his plans for the next fall, prepare for a concerto competition, and finish his final collegiate golf season. Paul wondered why he had been so relieved in December, when he completed his thesis and decided to earn a master’s degree in security studies and work for the CIA. Now, doubting he would be accepted to a single graduate school, he applied for the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in a desperate attempt to cover his bets.

You see, one trouble with the question “what’s next?” is that even when we decide what we want the answer to be, we’re restless until we are certain we can make that answer happen. And there is no milestone that can intensify that restlessness as much as spring break.

Spring break is a breath of fresh air amidst the pollution that is our incessant business. It’s often filled with smiles and -- if you’re not in Boston -- sunshine and sand.

But spring break can be like TIME=100 in Super Mario Bros.: the dreadful moment when the music switches from normal to warp speed. Afterward, our hearts beat faster, heads ache more often, and deadlines jump at us like winged turtles. We punish ourselves for New Year’s and term resolutions we haven’t kept. We worry about not having job offers for summer or fall. Or, like Paul, we stress over graduate school admissions.

To ready ourselves for success and happiness in the remainder of the spring term, we should balance enjoying our vacation with preparing for the season it brings. Here are three suggestions to help you strike the two faces of spring break right between the eyes.

Do some work but not too much

There’s nothing worse than playing catch-up after a well-deserved break. Tackle a few problem sets; write a few papers. However, don’t overdo it. Spending the entire week holed-up in the lab will probably make your solutions two parts procrastination, one part production. Besides, no matter how much you accomplish, MIT will always provide more work for you. Overwork yourself and when classes resume you’ll wish you had had more fun.

Have some fun.

Do something that makes you smile. Perhaps that’s seeing a beautiful new city or scoping new places in a familiar one. Do something that makes you laugh. Maybe that’s watching improv or taking in a T-ball game. Do something that has eluded you for a while. Maybe that’s conquering the novel your friend gave you months ago, the one that keeps getting nudged a few spots down your to-do list.

Don’t just plan, execute.

Ditch the line “When the break is over, I’m going to network more.” Just go meet someone new immediately. If you’re on the dead MIT campus, visit a staff or faculty member. She’ll welcome an excuse to postpone work as much as you will. If you’re at a spring break destination, talk to a stranger. You’ll have plenty to discuss. Chances are, she saved up for the trip just like you did. Or, better yet, she’s there on a blank check from her parents, who are executives at your favorite company.

Come to think of it, these are good things to do anytime. It figures, since time will render spring break as fleeting and insignificant as any other week. When you get the job offer or grad school acceptance you covet, everything will seem right in your world, regardless of how you felt during and after spring break.

Last year, Paul spent his break fielding questions about his grad school-then-CIA plan while secretly agonizing over the uncertainty of his future. His pain vanished a few weeks later, when he was accepted to American University. For months, Paul basked in the approval and encouragement of his parents, professors, and peers.

Then in December, Paul was so disappointed with his first term in Washington, DC, he left. Now everyone’s back to asking what the hell he’s doing, but he’s more confident than ever. He is going to become a golf pro, something he’s wanted to do all his life.