Opinion: Use the summer break wisely to improve yourself

The end of spring quarter is around the corner, and with that, everyone is getting ready to forget about school. We become excited and start making plans about all the places we will visit, all the TV shows we will binge and all sorts of fun activities we will indulge in. While it is important to use downtime effectively to recharge us from the strain of previous quarters, focusing solely on momentary entertainment can result in a giant waste of time that we will later regret.

If you are not taking summer classes or working full-time, you’ll probably find yourself with an enormous amount of free time on your hands. And what are people most likely to do with this valuable resource? Completely waste it. Just think about previous summers where you intended to learn a new skill or practice school material you learned in the past, but instead you wasted it on meaningless activities that have no real value. It has happened to me, and every single time — without exception — I felt like I just killed an opportunity to improve myself.

In the past few years, I’ve learned the value of deliberate practice. It represents the idea that, to improve your performance in any area, you must purposefully devote your personal time to it. While other people waste a disproportionate amount of time on momentary entertainment, you can invest in positive things that will have a long-term effect on you.

We are lucky to live in a time where education is more accessible than it has ever been. Practically anything you could wish to learn is available to you, for little to no cost, with the simple click of a button. There are many educational resources online, such as Coursera.org, Udemy.com or Lynda.com, which have plenty of content to sink your teeth into. Whether you want to learn how to draw, create websites or improve your calculus skills, the information is out there. Being out of school is no longer an excuse to stop learning, so think about some skills you would like to acquire and get to work. You will reap the benefits from this in the future.

Each quarter we stuff heavy books and notepads into our backpacks. We take notes, highlight paragraphs and neatly organize information hoping it will make our studies easier. This is a good way to finish the class with a good grade, so what’s the problem? The problem is this: as soon as the course ends, we never check these notes again. However, summer is the perfect time to go over material from previous classes and refamiliarize yourself with the concepts you learned over the course of the academic year. If this content is relevant to your major, you will want to practice and master it before you move on to harder topics. Don’t let the ink in your notes fade away; go back to them and refresh your memory. If it is something you truly learned, it will come back easily.

What is your first thought at the beginning of fall quarter? Probably “I want to go back outside!” This is because returning to school after three plus months of doing nothing is akin to someone shaking you to awake you from a two-hour nap. You’ll be groggy, miserable and with little motivation to push through the challenges of university life. This is particularly dangerous, as the beginning of a quarter can dictate how the rest goes. To avoid this, it’s important to start building momentum many weeks before autumn starts. If you use your free time during summer to develop good habits, you’ll be like a well-oiled machine that can transition between leisure to work much more effectively. Consider working on (and finishing) personal projects, reading books and exercising frequently. Investing your time in activities like those will equip you with real-life skills such as dedication and focus, which will be immediately applicable once you return to class.

So why exactly should you use your summer to continue studying when you already have spent so much time inside school? It’s because, as you will soon realize, what you learn in class is simply not enough in today’s extremely competitive world. Whether you are a freshman starting your journey as an adult, or a senior preparing to join the workforce, there are millions of others competing for the same limited resources you want. If you are going to school, you probably want to find a job that pays a good salary, offers a nice work/life balance and helps you grow in your field. You will have a tough time finding your dream job if you do what everyone else is doing, which is the bare minimum. If you truly want to stand out from the crowd, then you must go the extra mile. It all starts with not letting your summer go to waste.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that summer break is also an important time to recover from the stress of your school life. Do find the time for activities that are of high value to you. Whether that is watching movies, going out with friends or playing video games, if they recharge you, they are worth doing. The key is to use these activities as rewards for the hard work you are putting in, not as something you are owed or deserve. With this mentality, you’ll get more enjoyment out of your leisure time, while also strengthening your commitment to self-improvement.

Many individuals will hang their backpacks and store their study materials for a whooping 100 days (the approximate length of summer). Instead, use the chance to continue your education and leapfrog the competition. Learn new skills using many of the resources available online, go back to the notes you’ve taken in the past and develop good habits for the future. When you go back to class in autumn, you’ll be so much more prepared than your peers. And once you finish school — because you’ve learned how to use your time wisely — you’ll land the opportunities others won’t.