Creating Structure helped ME fight THE POST-UNI SLUMP
By Erika Veurink
Gone are the days of scheduled seminars and deadlines. How do we keep motivated when time seems to stretch endlessly before us? Erika shares her advice.
"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”
I underlined this passage from The Writing Life by Annie Dillard in a park in Manhattan on my last lunch break of my regular job. I started full-time in fashion before graduating; balancing the two with limited success. After one too many calls to DHL to track a vinyl belt lost in Dublin, I realised I didn’t care about fashion in the same way I had as the girl who’d once blue-tacked Vogue pages to my bedroom walls.
Upon leaving uni and my fashion job, what I discovered in the land of the lost year was time, and lots of it. My mornings were free of frantic calls to the office in London whilst transferring from one train to another. Afternoons sprawled out in front of me. Nighttime had an unfamiliar openness to it. And just like Annie Dillard predicted, chaos and whim abounded.
Then, I instated a routine. I wrote it out in my journal, ripped it out and tacked it to my wall. Determined to discover what I cared about, I reluctantly woke up at six every morning until it felt normal. I walked the same loop in Prospect Park until it became delightfully new every morning. I wrote pages and pages of nonsense until it was enough to craft a grad school application essay. I found freedom in structure, and here’s what I learned:
1. Find friends with your schedule and without
It’s good to have someone to call when you’re have a mini crisis at 11am, as well as someone to catch up with on the weekends. Mostly, it’s important to foster friendships with people in a variety of life stages, not just those stuck in the same one as you. An older mentor can help you to remember that your quarterlife crisis is nothing new. A younger sister can distract you with her all-important high school drama. But there’s nothing like ordering in dinner with your best friend, commiserating each other on your shared looming uncertainty, and eventually settling on the reality that at least you’re in it together.
2. Find your “power hours”.
Early bird or night owl, now’s the time to fully embrace it. I found early in my post graduate life that I’m most creative early in the day, around 6-8am. I wake up instinctively at that time every morning, write for a few hours, then start the rest of my day. My social media usage is monitored in accordance with this practice. I’m off my phone until my morning walk after writing, where I listen to podcasts or call my mom. I don’t properly check my phone until about 10am, post-coffee and productivity. And an alarm on my phone goes off 9pm, reminding me to tuck my devices away for reading before bed. Nothing disrupts productivity and creativity like checking your phone.
3. Find work that complements your “power hours”.
Forget the pressure of a full-time job and really allow yourself to think about what you love doing or what comes easily for you. Say you find yourself loving the time to write in the morning, maybe a job waitressing in the afternoon would be a good fit. If nights are when you feel inspired, consider an early shift at a bookstore. It’s helpful to take a look at what jobs you enjoyed in the past or to ask a friend when you have seemed happiest over the years they’ve known you. Then get creative. Protect the parts of your day when inspiration strikes. When we build structure, we can be delighted by creativity. Not because it visits us like a moody muse, but because we made the space for it.
4. Get out of your pyjamas.
A classic tip for those working from home: changing into real world clothes can make all the difference. Get dressed, make up the bed, go out for a coffee, live a life outside of your apartment. A proper breakfast has the potential to shift the entire day for the better. This sense of preparation helps you break your bad uni habits of quasi-living--outfits that were more sleepwear than streetwear, breakfasts that were really leftovers, and weekend afternoons that were more recovery than relaxation. Plus, a good outfit has the potential to take you anywhere: a new cafe in the neighborhood or even to the cinema to see a film alone. Making an effort, even once a week to step outside of your routine, is essential to sustaining structure.
5. Trust that everyone goes through this.
It’s universal! And just because it’s not talked about doesn't mean it’s of any less relevance. Start the conversation with your friends, no matter how taboo or uncomfortable it feels at first. Read books about characters shuffling in the sea of uncertainty. Be patient. Be uncomfortable. Be OK with some days feeling like they’re in slow motion and others like they’re in hyper-speed. Remind yourself that your value doesn’t come from what you get done, but from who you are. To be in your twenties is to be on the perpetual brink of some unnamable thing. Embrace this season with the understanding that it is just that: a season.
Check out Erika Veurink’s website here.
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