What are your plans for the summer? Big holiday booked? Maybe you will be setting aside some time to declutter the hall cupboard or repaint the garden fence. Perhaps you are setting yourself a challenge. Is there a couch to 10k in the pipeline or will you be spending your six weeks mastering conversational Italian? All good. But please remember it is also totally valid to have no plans at all.
Sometimes the very best challenge you can set yourself is to do is nothing. And it can be much harder than you might think. As a society, we are in relentless pursuit of Insta-worthy experiences, to the extent that if you are not swimming with sharks every five minutes or scaling the Andes you might feel like your summer holiday has been a total bust.
This constant compulsion to do, do, do is deeply worrying. As teachers we are used to clattering along at rate of knots, firing through to-do list after to-do list. We set the bar, clear the bar, raise the bar. It is literally the day job. So understandably, it can feel like the pressure is on to pack the summer holiday full to bursting with challenging experiences too. After all, nobody ever went viral for sitting eating crisps in front of Homes under the Hammer.
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But what if we need to slow down for our own good? We are in the middle of a mental health epidemic in this country because giving yourself permission to stare out of the window for an hour has become a rebellious act. It is somehow not OK to be anything other than constantly on the go. The simple, purposeful decision to do nothing is powerfully subversive; it could be the best thing you ever do. Just decide to stop. Stop striving, stop reaching, stop pushing and just be. Notice what’s good, what makes you happy. Treat yourself well. Let life settle around you as you glide to a gentle stop and revel in doing absolutely hee-haw.
When you decide to slow things down and take the gif-worthy posts of your peers with a large pinch of salt, you free up headspace for other things. Sure, there will be people scaling Everest backwards on a jet ski, but get beyond that and you will find the far less showy but equally brilliant teachers that are just quietly satisfying that little voice inside that tells them to create. Painters, sculptors, knitters, crafters, dot-to-dot enthusiasts and crossword fiends. And yes, even writers too. Teachers are inherently creative people – it is a core part of what we do – and those that choose to slow down and carve out some holiday time to nurture that creativity usually feel emotionally and spiritually nourished in return.
And let’s not forget that just being home and fully present with your own family is a very exciting and rewarding thing too. Being able to immerse yourself in home life without other pressures can right a lot of term-time wrongs and reset the balance of your closest relationships. And all without a jet ski in sight.
In truth, what you spend your summer doing is wholly up to you. Jam-packed or commitment-free, do it your way and do not let anyone shame you into action. Social media timelines brimming with sun-soaked perfect moments that are not real: they are a constructed fiction, designed to play on your insecurities and make you feel bad about yourself and your choices. Quite frankly, they can get in the actual bin and stay there.
Do (or don’t do) what you want this summer. Be happy and well. If that means hopping onto a jet ski in shark-infested waters, good luck to you my friend – but just be sure you are skiting across those waves for the right reasons.
Susan Ward is depute headteacher at Kingsland Primary School in Peebles, in the Scottish Borders. She tweets @susanward30