It’s August and I’m not happy about it. As excited as I always am about fall and new projects and routines, I can’t help feeling that August is one long, painful goodbye to summer. It’s always seemed to me that there’s a sense of urgency about August – and not in an exciting way, in a dwindling potential way. The nights are cooler. The weekends at the lake are numbered. Summer jobs are ending. Plus there are all those things you said you were going to do this summer but haven’t yet. Sure, you had a blast seeing friends and family, working a new job, and doing some well-deserved lounging. But that all fades a little when you realize what you didn’t do.
Summer always has so much possibility about it that I go a little overboard with my mental planning. As a teenager I would make summer resolutions to read 30 books and go running every day and get my driver’s license. I remember one summer I was weirdly determined to learn Italian. I don’t know why. I do know that it didn’t happen and I felt like I’d failed myself. I’d make these resolutions and gain some headway on my projects (though not nearly the kind I expected of myself because clearly my goals were a bit over the top) but when August hit it felt like my last chance to make good and I would start to panic a little.
Unfortunately being panicked isn’t really conducive to getting things done. I hate to break it to you, especially to my fellow procrastinators, because a lot of us like to think we’re great under pressure. I totally understand the panic-fueled rush of adrenaline that pushes you to finish something as the deadline approaches. You might be able to pull an all-nighter to finish a paper but there is no way you can use this method to learn to drive. And there is no adrenaline rush in the world big enough to power learn a language. Not only does that sound medically dangerous, it’s also just not how adrenaline – or learning for that matter – works.
I gradually came to realize that the problem wasn’t with August, it was with my approach to it. There were 31 days left of summer and a Labour Day long weekend grace period before I had to admit summer was over. I was anticipating the end a whole month early. I didn’t need to give up on my summer goals. Now older, wiser, and more reasonable in my goal-setting, this is how I face my annual twinge of August panic.
Figure out your legacy at work
There comes a point in August when you realize that you can’t really start anything new at your summer job. You’re not on next month’s shift schedule. You stop getting meeting invites because you’ll be finished by then. It’s kind of like at the end of high school when everyone is talking about next year’s teams and clubs and you realize it’s no longer relevant to you. At this point it’s tempting to just ride it out, but it’s important to tie up loose ends. Now that your regular duties are getting lighter you could put that time and energy toward one last sprint to get something done and leave on a high note.
Finish a book
Reading one, that is, not writing one! Finishing a book makes you feel accomplished. It gives you something to think about. It gives you something intelligent to discuss with other people. Reading is also a really good way to get out of your own head for a little while, which can be helpful if you’re feeling stressed out or worried. Even if you aren’t it’s still a nice break from your regularly scheduled thoughts, which can get a bit circular from time to time.
Maximize the rest of your summer fun
There’s still time to go camping and see that friend you’ve been meaning to see all summer. There are festivals to go to and barbeques to have and slurpees to drink while they’re still seasonally appropriate. The good part about things ending is you get some real unstructured holiday time before September arrives. Embrace it!
Start a new project
Start something you can continue doing throughout the year. Maybe it’s a blog or online portfolio of some kind. Maybe it’s a yoga class or you want to learn graphic design or today is the day you start training for that 10k you’ve been talking about. Who says September and January are the only months you’re allowed to start things? That’s totally arbitrary, to say nothing of the fact that September is already busy and January is freezing cold; not optimal conditions for starting new things. Making August the start date instead of the deadline takes some of the pressure off.
Ease up on yourself
If you’re feeling stressed about goals you’ve set for yourself it’s important to remember that you are allowed to change those goals. Setting goals is not a binding contract, it’s a constant process of re-evaluation. If you decide not to do something it doesn’t automatically mean that you’ve failed yourself. There’s a difference between holding yourself accountable and beating yourself up about not finishing something that no longer feels relevant to you.
Realize this isn’t actually the end
I’m not sure why I felt everything had to end so abruptly with August. Obviously some things come to a close but personal projects and goals aren’t necessarily seasonal. I thought of August 31st like some people thought the world was going to end in December 2012. It turns out life goes on. Don’t panic. You’ll just end up with a lot of canned goods and bottled water on your hands when the apocalypse doesn’t happen, and I guarantee you’ll feel silly about it.
Photograph by Tori McNish