SoOoOoOOooooo it’s the most wonderful time of the year: IAP! That time of year where every MIT student can choose to do whatever they please, from literally everything (and potentially find themselves burnt out before the semester even starts) to absolutely nothing (and suffer the crushing guilt that comes with not using every moment of your free time to do something you can tell an employer about).
I’ve had this conversation a few times, but the more I think about IAP, the more I don’t like it. When I was a prospective student, I thought that IAP was the coolest. thing. ever. A whole month or more to just do whatever you want? That’s fantastic! I can relax, travel, take some classes, get an internship; the world would be my oyster. And I was right about those things. There’s so much to do over IAP, so many offerings, and that’s really cool of MIT to set up. I understand that a lot of people get a lot out of that. Hell, I did last IAP with my two classes.
At the same time, I narrow my eyebrows.
When does IAP start for MIT students? Most classes during this IAP started on January 4th. When do my friends at other schools go back to classes? Usually right after January 20th. Most other schools have an additional 2-3 weeks over winter break where they’re not expected to do anything. They usually wrap their spring semester earlier than us as well. So on my more cynical days, here’s what I see: MIT gives us a “super long break” with the incorporation of IAP, but everyone who exists in and around MIT knows that there’s always so much pressure to be doing as many things as you can if you have the option of doing them. If you decide to use your IAP to just exist, you feel like a stupid, weak, lazy failure! That might just be me and the people I’ve asked, but I’m sure it’s true for a not-insignificant percentage of the student population. So we create an expectation of career-focused work during this time at a school that already has a perfectionist, workaholic culture, an expectation that seems like it’s almost designed to breed guilt in students who decide to do something for pleasure for more than the two weeks that makes up MIT’s true winter break.
UGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. AAAHHHHHHHHHH. WHYYYYYYYY.
Ok salty rant is over. I don’t totally hate IAP, it’s just that the longer I’m at MIT the more I see the problems with it. Here’s what I’m doing over IAP.
- Writing Blogposts because I really like writing them. One of the reasons I took a break last semester is that I felt like I could only post rarely sad or angry things because that’s where I was at. Now I realize that A) I’m allowed to post sad and angry things, B) posting sad and angry things actually makes me feel better about them, C) a lot of people relate to sad and angry, and D) not everything I post is sad and angry. But this post is, and I’m enjoying writing it.
- Writing Short Stories just for me. I want to write more in the future, and it turns out the best way to write is to, I don’t know, just write? So this IAP I’m proving to myself that I’m serious about it by actually dedicating time to writing short stories. I’m having a lot of fun! I love cooking up whimsical ideas and not having to care if it’s even good. I’m trying to not put too much pressure on myself though, because if I do that I’ll get too anxious to continue. I have this problem a lot, where the more I care about something the more nervous it makes me, which prevents me from doing it. Sounds counter-intuitive, right? Well, it is, and I wish I could make sense of it both to myself and others. Someone got frustrated with me recently over this line of thinking, and it really sucked. Sorry person-who-will-not-be-named-here, not everyone’s brain is a robotic logic machine. Ugh.
- Clearing my 8.02 OX, or at least hoping to. I never took the final for Physics II, and I reaaallllyyy gotta get it cleared. Not gonna lie, it’s tough finding the motivation. The activation energy required to crack open the 8.02 (especially when I wasn’t doing well) is pretty damn high. Part of me feels bad for prioritizing this over taking a class or getting an internship, but I keep telling myself that I’m doing it for my dad. My dad really wants me to take it. Dad: If you’re reading this, don’t worry, I’ll start on it soon.
- Reconnecting with friends because I really need to. I felt pretty socially isolated this semester. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a lot of people with me, it was more that I was only close with one person in the house I was living in. This was, uh, not great. It was even more not great because I’m terrible at reaching out to people over text. That experience left me with a weird, heavy bundle of sadness in my heart; I didn’t even realize it was there until I returned home and couldn’t stop crying all of the time. So I got out of my element: I called people, I reached out to old friends, I rekindled some relationships, I changed my plans. Eventually I decided that I needed to live with friends over break, which my family completely supported, and I road-tripped out to Massachusetts to spend the majority of IAP with a group of amazing people I’ve missed a lot the past few months (Matt, Joe, and Martin: I know you read these sometimes. Hi :D). It was one of the best choices I’ve made in a long time. Something about being surrounded by people you love really heals the soul, and I’ve been having an easier time untangling all of this unnamed heartbreak in the presence of people that I have uncomplicated, affectionate relationships with.
- Looking for Jobs. Ugh. I always feel so underqualified for everything, and let’s be honest: I kinda am. What do I do when I have no research experiences, I’m in no clubs, and I did terribly in my classes? I’m probably going to go to UROP office hours sometime soon to work on my resume, and then I just gotta start applying. I’m so, so nervous, but there’s nothing I can do if i want to be employed, and I have time right now, so I guess it’s happening.
- Nothing. So much nothing. I wake up late. I make cake-pops. I go on walks. I make lunch. I watch TV. I look at the sun as it sets over the Atlantic Ocean. I take naps. I play around with my (new!) espresso machine. I play video games. I talk with friends. I laugh a lot. I cry it out. I stare out the window and let my mind wander. I notice how pretty everything is. Have you ever taken the time to feel who you are when no one’s telling you what to do? I think this is my first time ever doing that. I’m past the I’m-laying-around-all-day-because-I-can part; I’m just really doing what I want now that I’ve recovered from the semester. What a good way to meet yourself, taking twenty minutes to watch how your shoes sink into some sand.
I’ve been made to feel guilty about knowing myself my entire life, and it’s really disappointing that I sometimes feel like MIT is just another institution telling me, either directly or indirectly, that I don’t have the right to this time. But I’m taking it anyway. I refuse to let this place eat me alive.