I can admit, the American “constant work” mindset has taken me hostage. As vulnerable as it might sound, I have a seriously hard time being alone or feeling unproductive. Through my high school and university years, being busy and surrounded by others was my safe haven. I have worked countless hours of jobs, volunteered, partook in extracurriculars, and took advantage of every single opportunity in order to continue working at all hours of the day. While I believe this has had major advantages, the downside is a serious challenge with doing nothing or being by myself.
That being said, I have ran into a small challenge while being in Spain… I have SO much time on my hands to do absolutely nothing at all.
The months of August and September are free months for Teach Abroad participants in Spain before embarking on the challenge of the new job. While this is a wonderful period of adjustment, I have almost near lost my mind trying to find things to keep myself busy. After a few weeks, I was faced with the reality that the constant traveling/going out life of luxury is not cost friendly or sustainable by any means. Even once we begin working as auxiliars, work weeks are around 16 hours (plus additional activities and meetings) compared to my normal 40 hours a week. It leaves room for my mind to spiral. At times, in all honesty I have begun to even feel trapped within myself.
Talking to others, I have begun to realize that I don’t think I’m the only one who sees this within myself. Americans statistically work a ridiculous amount. It is embedded into my cultural values. America is the most overworked nation in the world, working hundreds more hours on average per year than similar nations. With this realization, I have found the best way to tackle this problem is to look at my increased time alone as a new cultural challenge. While it is much easier said than done, here is my little list of things that have helped me conquer seclusion or the feeling of unproductivity.
There is absolutely nothing I recommend more than learning how to sit down and write out your emotions. Setting time during the day to go out to the park and reflect on how I really feel has been extremely comforting. Write about your hardships, your travels, things you have learned, plans for the future, or anything that has been on your mind. You never know when years down the line your past struggles will be fuel for your future motivation.
2. Creating to-do lists, timelines and making goals
Every single morning, I start my day with a to-do list that I want to accomplish during the day. Even if it might be small, I find that watching myself cross off a list of tasks makes me feel much more productive. I am also extremely goal motivated, and if you are like me, I highly recommend buying a self planner. With this, I have found it extremely helpful to create timelines with specific dates aiming to finish goals I have created for myself. For example, if I want to work on my Spanish, I will set a goal for a month from now to be at a particular Spanish level and create a timeline of how I am going to get there. I also schedule out set particular times during the week where I focus on a certain project, like Wednesdays at 10:00am when I write blog posts!
To be quite honest, I am a horrible budgeter. Like…BAD. Living abroad is expensive, and new expenses come up every single day that I’m not prepared for. However, I have found that even creating a simple budget with a set amount for food, entertainment, and house expenses for the week is extremely crucial to my own sanity. Also, create a monthly travel saving fund! One of my goals for myself has been to travel to one new city each month, so I try to set up a budget on where I can cut my entertainment expenses while in Madrid to achieve this.
4. Utilizing online tools and not being afraid to branch out
The internet is a magical tool that you can use to find free events and opportunities. Join Auxiliar or even European Erasmus pages! Sign up for free lectures, intercambios, meet-ups, trips, or anything you can use to meet new people with common interests. Go alone as well. Most the time, you will find out that everyone is in the same boat as you are and just looking to branch out too.
5. Try to look at every challenge as room for growth
Not everything is going to be easy. Sometimes you will feel lost or confused or homesick or just really, really broke (I have felt all of those in the span of the last month). However, ever hurdle is a learning experience. This time you are spending here is setting you up for an amazing life in the future with a full understanding of the world around you. Find the good in everything you face and you will begin to find comfort in the person you are.