Hannah Harshe: Play in the dirt

Thursday, May 17, 2018 - 7:46am

It’s 7:45 a.m. We’re walking down East Liberty Street. I have two rakes in my hand, and Shannon, my roommate, has a drawstring bag on her back that holds a spade, a fork, a hoe and a pair of shears. We’re excited, if not a little bit sheepish, about the adventure that lies ahead of us. I learned early on in my time at the University of Michigan that “wasting time,” which is broadly defined as “doing something that you aren’t going to put on your resume,” is a criminal offense, and, up until now, I’ve been utterly opposed to breaking the law. But not today. Today I don’t care if I’m wasting time. Today I’m going to play in the yard.

We arrive at a pretty little house with lots of weeds in the yard and set our tools down on the front porch. Shannon takes one side of the sidewalk and I take the other. We dig out weeds with our hands and talk about the adventures we want to go on this summer. I pull my hair into a ponytail so I can feel the sun on the back of my neck. I’m having fun. Is that what it’s called? Fun? I haven’t had this much dirt underneath my fingernails since I was 8 years old digging for treasure in my backyard. Of course, I’m 20 years old, and therefore way too old to play in the yard. I’m in college, meaning I should be spending every spare moment making myself more “employable,” whatever that means. In two years, I will have graduated and officially entered the job market, and no employer wants to hire a girl who uses her valuable free time to play in the dirt.

About 41 percent of Americans let some of their paid vacation days go to waste, likely because they don’t want to be perceived as lazy for taking advantage of the benefits outlined in their contract. In fact, this survey of U.S. corporate managers finds that many equate working longer hours with being more dedicated, more hardworking and more responsible. Michael Bloomberg’s career advice? Don’t even go to the bathroom, let alone take time off to take a vacation or play in the dirt. In 2011, he said, “I am not smarter than anybody else but I can outwork you – and my key to success for you, or anybody else, is making sure you are the first one in there every day and the last one to leave. Don’t ever take a lunch break or go to the bathroom, you keep working.”

I’m a sucker for this kind of industriousness. That’s why I’m at the University of Michigan! I take pride in my ability to work hard. During the school year, I didn’t take any breaks. I really didn’t. I outworked everyone else and I didn’t rest or relax at all until once I sat myself down on my couch to tell Shannon a funny story, but when I opened my mouth, instead of words coming out, I just started crying. “I think we’ve finally done it,” Shannon said. “I think we’ve finally worked ourselves past our breaking points.”

So we decided to go back to where we came from the front yard, playing in the dirt. The same place we spent every summer until we hit 12 years old and realized that playing in the dirt isn’t productive and that we should be using the spare time to set goals and get jobs. Maybe someday I’ll really reach adulthood, and I’ll be able to work, work, work from sunup to sundown, and it won’t kill me or run me dry. But right now, at 20 years old, I’m still better suited for playing in the dirt than I am for sitting at desk 12 hours a day. Figures.

It’s 10 a.m. now, so it’s time to put wipe the dirt off our knees and walk back down East Liberty Street to get home. I remember playing in the backyard with my sister, and my dad would come outside and ruin all the fun by telling us it was time to go to bed. Summer was the best time of year because when our faces fell and we told him we weren’t tired yet, he would remind us that we didn’t have school the next day and we could go back outside first thing in the morning if we wanted to.

Shannon and I wash the dirt out from underneath our fingernails, and we put slacks and button-downs over our sunburnt, mosquito-bitten bodies. We will go about the rest of our days without committing any unspoken criminal offenses. In two years, when we start interviewing for our first “big-kid jobs,” we’ll tell the employers about how in the summer of 2018, we spent our afternoons in offices completing internships. We won’t tell them about our mornings when we played in the dirt and let the sun beat down on the backs of our necks. We won’t tell them about how if we hadn’t let ourselves play in the dirt that summer, even just a little bit, we might not have made it through summer at all.

When you spend your summer in Ann Arbor, it’s hard for it to feel like summer, because, like it or not, it’s still Ann Arbor. It’s still the lovely little town that worked you until you ran dry all winter, the lovely little town where you received your first failing grades and got rejected from your first jobs. When you walk down East Liberty Street, it’s hard to believe that you’re allowed to end up somewhere besides the Starbucks where you studied every evening during the winter semester. But if you ever want to join Shannon and me when we’re playing in the dirt, I highly recommend it. We leave at 7:45 a.m. I promise I won’t tell your future employer.