Why I Am Doing Nothing This Summer

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Being a second year lawyer, it is a truth universally acknowledged that almost all of my fellow lawyers are this summer either embarking on at least one lucrative vac scheme or mini-pupillage, or otherwise completing some other sort of work experience, course or volunteering.

I am sure this is the same whatever subject you happen to study: after second year has finished, with (normally) only one more year until graduation, the huge flashing lights marking the crossroads called Your Future become much harder to ignore. Such students, it often seems, have confidently traversed that crossing and are riding in the fast lane along the straight, rapid highway towards the shining city called Success. This is an admirable, enviable, course to take. Headlines regularly inform us that the job market is becoming less secure and more competitive for young people.

The pressure to feed the CV comes from a legitimate sense of uncertainty. For those who know what they want to do with their career, there is a specific route to take, a tick-list of advantageous experience to be gained. For those who are as of yet undecided as to destination, there is equal pressure to accumulate those vague but strictly necessary Transferable Skills. Doing nothing during the summer vacation is a risk. Doing nothing could lead you straight to a dead end.

But I want to peer into this “nothing” a little more, and see what it contains. Reading books and articles, watching films, spending time with family and friends who you don’t see as often as you would like during term time. These are things that, no matter how passionate you are about them, must be relegated to the “Other Interests” section of the CV, to be skimmed by a potential employer for the purposes of small talk as a preamble to the real questions.

Many people, of course, take holidays during the summer vacation. As one extended holiday is what I am (probably naively) hoping my forthcoming year abroad to be, I am firmly homebound this summer. And maybe it is the sense of leeway that the prospect of an extra year out of Cambridge brings, but I am reconciled with it. Doing “nothing” actually feels like doing an awful lot, often of my favourite things.

At Cambridge, productivity is king, to the extent that every cup of tea has to be, albeit sometimes jokingly, accompanied with a sigh and comment that you “really should be working right now.” The reflex to justify your activities is not inherently a damaging one, and neither is the inclination to engage in useful activity. Indeed sometimes I feel like an over-filled sponge, soaking up learning, culture and experiences, with the urgent need to do something with it all, put something back into the world that has given me so much.

But sometimes the understanding of what is “useful” or “productive”, what is “something” and what is “nothing” can be defined too narrowly, as if the CV were not merely a mechanism with which to procure a job but a document that reflects the sum total of the value of our lives thus far.

As far as summer activities go, being enjoyable, being interesting, being relaxing, is enough. But along with that short term value, “nothing” activities may have a cumulative, less obvious value in the new avenues they open up and the way they shape our character. Perhaps instead of being a main road such a course is more like a shady side-alley: just because you can’t see where it will take you, doesn’t mean that you are going nowhere. 

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