This was the summer, I was supposed to be playing Resident Evil 6 and eating chocolate.
After enduring the grueling process of buying our first house, moving right in the middle of a nightmare semester, and fighting the drowsiness of academic burnout, I finally decided that I was going to start taking care of myself.
For those of you who have never experienced burnout, I can assure you that it’s nothing more than a slow, cruel, and painful death of the guiding force that used to propel you through life at speeds of up to Mach 7. It’s the result of an all-work-and-no-play attitude that maliciously chips at the emotional armor shielding you from self-doubt, fatigue, and low self-esteem. The worst part is that no matter how long you think you can endure, it’s a battle that YOU WILL eventually lose. As your motivation withers, you become your own worst enemy and, like Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth, you consistently thumb your nose at the details as David Bowie mocks you with twirly glass balls and a snaggletooth grin.
It doesn’t matter if your Materials homework is due tomorrow and you haven’t started it because, at this very moment, you’ve just noticed this new Korean drama on Hulu and there will be no sleep until you find out if the poor Kim Sam-soon is ever going end up with the very rich Hyun Jin-heon, especially now that his pouty ex-girlfriend Yoo Hee-jin – whose only flaw is that she’s recovering from cancer – is back in town.
Pushing K-drama and David Bowie’s glass balls aside, I realized that my burnout was actually my brain crying for the brand of relief that I had consistently denied myself since I stormed out my father’s house over ten years ago. Still in survival mode, I had never actually figured out how to step back from the stress and drama I was creating on my own accord.
I decided that the first and most natural resolution for a methodically minded creature such as myself, was to create a list of all the lovely little luxuries I would (reluctantly) allow myself. These things included but were not limited to:
- Finishing Resident Evil 6 in the “No Hope” mode (because Infinite Magnum Ammo is for rubes).
- Getting in shape (“round” is technically a shape).
- Buying a magazine without the words “Engineer”, “Science”, or “Lowrider” on the cover (especially one that didn’t originate from the campus career center).
- Eat more chocolate without guilt or shame (the more presumptuous the packaging, the better).
For my second trick, I decided that I would refrain from registering for summer classes but, like an alcoholic on his first day of sobriety, I felt myself quivering at the permanence of pouring the booze down the sink. So, as the first day of summer classes came and went without me, I placed my right hand over my heart and held firm to my pledge to “take it easy”. After all, this was going to be the first summer that I wouldn’t have to slog through the muggy Buffalo heat, deposit myself into an overly air-conditioned lecture hall, and force myself to sit patiently through the joys of linear algebra. However, for all the aspects of my life that received a resounding “no”, there were others that would have nothing more than a “yes”. This is where BEAM comes in.
Since the last fall semester, I have been working for the BEAM (Buffalo-area Engineering Awareness for Minorities) program as the 11th – 12th grade Saturday Academy instructor. My job is to somehow create and execute several two hour projects that somehow convey engineering principles without exceeding time, budget, and the attention spans of your above average 17 to 18-year old high school student. The task was certainly overwhelming and the idea of applying my budding engineering skills to anything beyond a math problem seemed well beyond the realm of possibility. Yet, despite the endless facade of trying to look confident when experiments literally blew up in my face, I felt an endless rush of excitement as I took my position at the head of the classroom. I watched as my students marveled at the idea of being able to build a simple speaker out of a magnet, copper wire, and a styrofoam cup. The only time I truly felt like a real, honest-to-goodnes engineer was when Friday night’s basement experiment turned into Saturday morning’s amazement.
Suddenly, getting out of bed wasn’t so much of a chore and the idea that my engineering degree could be so much more than a desk job and an impressive W-2 seemed attractive to me. For the first time in my life, I felt the hope, joy and overwhelming confusion that I lost somewhere between my senior year of high school and the halfhearted college application process that repeatedly left me in tears.
It’s a pungent feeling of possibility that accompanies lotto tickets, unopened and overstuffed envelopes from your first choice college and, moreover, the clean break in awkwardness when the man you’ve been dating for only two weeks cracks a joke that truly, fully, and genuinely make you buckle with laughter.
It’s the part of your brain that says, “Yeah, this just might work.”
Tune in next week for Part 2 – Electric Boogaloo (This time, it’s personal)…