A few months ago, during the first week of my study abroad, I got the flu. For a while, I was in denial. I kept going to class, refused to see a doctor, and continued to try to explore my new city. There were so many sights to see, foods to taste, and new people to meet. I couldn’t afford to be pent up in bed. On top of that, my friends were planning a weekend trip that I didn’t want to miss. Fearing that I was going to miss out on one of the many adventures I had planned and waste my limited time in Spain idle in bed, I tried to push the thought of sickness to the back of my mind.
As my symptoms started to worsen, however, I could no longer ignore the situation. My host father put his foot down and sent me to a doctor, who ordered me to rest. I traded that trip to Mallorca with all my friends for weekend wasted on Spanish-language Netflix in my dark bedroom.
Over the course of the ensuing days in bed, however, something crystalized for me. My time spent relaxing and recuperating really wasn’t being wasted. In fact, by taking my recovery seriously right now, I was making the most of my time, ensuring that I would be back to 100% as soon as possible and not dragging along at half-speed for the next few weeks, unable to live my experience to the fullest.
Pretty soon, I was vindicated. Not only did I recover faster than expected, I also, unfortunately, watched the flu run its course through the rest of my classmates. Almost all my peers fell ill, one after another. Some of them took a few days off and got over the flu quickly. Far more of them, however, fearing the same things I had, decided to soldier through. Unsurprisingly, many of them suffered for weeks because they refused to allow themselves the time they needed to properly recover. Over the course of my illness, I missed two and a half days of classes, one night out, a visit to a modern art museum (a travesty!), and that trip to Mallorca (the actual travesty). For some of my friends, it was much worse. While they might not have been absent for any classes, they certainly weren’t there mentally for a week or more. They missed out on five or six or more nights out and multiple group excursions. On top of that they just didn’t feel good for a much longer period of time. By spending weeks at diminished capacity, they missed more than I did in 4 days of total shutdown.
Though it’s counterintuitive, sometimes the most industrious thing to do is nothing.
Overcoming that latent guilt and fear of missing out so that you can commit to idleness, as hard as it is, is sometimes necessary to get yourself back to full speed—whether physically (like my experience). mentally or creatively. The Franklinian virtue of industry reminds us to “be always employed in something useful.” Oddly enough, sometimes the most useful way to employ yourself is to employ yourself in nothing at all.