This is my first summer in the real world. It’s the first summer where I have not had ample free time, hours to lay in the sun, or days to do nothing. It’s the first summer where I’m actually working a real job, a job that requires me to come in every day at the same time and leave when the sun has already passed its prime.
Last summer, I had graduated college, but I was still clearly not in the real world. I was still job searching and teaching swimming lessons and didn’t start working in a restaurant until later in July or August. I still had plenty of time to enjoy the summer months.
And all the summers before that my summer job didn’t count. As a lifeguard, I went in to work around 11 AM and spent my days in a bathing suit, soaking up the rays, lounging by a pool. I got nice long breaks where I could lay out or swim or read a book. I taught a few swimming lessons and left the pool at 7:30 PM, with time to either go home and relax or hang out with friends, knowing that I didn’t really have a care in the world, and that an 11 AM start time the next day was plenty of time to sleep in.
Unfortunately, I didn’t appreciate those days when I had them. I have had a summer job since I was 15. I started working at a pool–selling ice cream bars in the snack shack and cleaning up the wrappers that escaped the garbage cans. The next summer I was a lifeguard at a different pool and just couldn’t bear to leave that easy life. I knew that it was an easy job. It was a great job for a swimmer, and I could use the skills I already had. But by the last summer or two that I spent there, I started to hate it. I was tired of the sun. I hated putting on sunscreen every day. I was appalled that I had let myself sit there staring at water all that time, basking in boredom. And I had read too many articles about lifeguards getting skin cancer. I finished up my fifth year lifeguarding and never looked back.
It was an easy job. But I still didn’t fully appreciate it. It’s hard to appreciate something until you’re done with it, until you’ve seen the other side.
And here I am. On the other side. And now I see that the old grass was greener.
I am a summer person. I love summer. I love sun and the beach and warm days put me in a wonderful mood. So now I wake up in the morning, shower and put on a sundress. But when I get to work, I can’t even tell if the sun is shining because my office doesn’t have a window. I leave work at 5:30 PM and I feel that summertime is passing me by. I find it difficult to do anything after work knowing that I just have to wake up again early the next morning. My skin will be permanently ghostly this year, unless I try really really hard on the weekends to lay out–but on the weekends, I have other things I’ve been waiting all week to do.
Summers in the real world have turned out to be much more depressing than I originally anticipated.
So this week, I am lucky to be on vacation. I am incredibly lucky that the organization I work for was able to give me a few days of paid time off (and that my vacation happens to be over the 4th of July holiday, when our office is closed anyways). And I can say for a fact that I am taking full advantage. I have turned off my work email syncing on my phone. Our beach house actually doesn’t have wireless internet connection this year, so I won’t have to worry about seeing all the emails pop up on my computer. (I’m writing this from a Starbucks.) I brought plenty of books and bikinis, with the expectation of clearing my mind and de-stressing.
During those lifeguard years, I would get to the beach and it would be just a different version of my work-day. Sun, water, sunscreen. But this year…this is vacation. This is the true meaning of vacation. It’s a relief. Taking some time to yourself to unwind and relax, to get away from the real world for a short time. And to figure out how to better appreciate the real world when you go back.
So far it’s off to a rainy start. But honestly, I don’t even mind. There will be other days to lay on the beach. Today I will read a book.