I will never be care-free again. What a sad thing to realize.
These past few days, as I was brainstorming for my senior thesis (a year-long endeavor), I found myself wishing that the work would just stop, and let me relax for a week or two knowing that there are no looming deadlines. This is how it used to be in high school and the first few semesters of college: All my work had an absolute deadline -- the end of the semester. When the break came, I was done, and work wouldn't start again until the next semester. I could relax, knowing that I had no responsibilities until classes started again. I could survive several days without checking my email. I could work on crafts stuff without feeling guilty. My life was structured in alternating periods of work and no-work.
I really miss that.
The work I do now is not like that at all. Research just drags on and on. I'm still trying to finish up some stuff from last summer, and next June I'll be presenting some work that was supposed to be finished one year before. Even though I want to be done with it, the work just keeps coming back; it never ends. If I don't do so well on a problem set, I'll just start fresh on a new one next week. But with research, I have to live with the results and the crappy code and the thorny questions for a long time, and there are no semester cutoffs.
The consequence is that I can't really relax during the breaks, because I always have work that is not finished. I check my email daily, in case something important (work-related) comes up. I feel guilty getting up at 12 and doing origami, because I could be working on my thesis. I end up mixing work and play all day, and then feeling dissatisfied at the end of the day because I was neither productive nor relaxed. My break got shorter by a day, but my pile of work did not get any smaller.
The depressing thing is that grad school will be like this too. The work will leak from one year to the next, never completely finished. And a real job would be the same, I'm sure. The periods I miss, with no work and no responsibilities, are not coming back. I'll never be care-free again, and I need to find a way to relax and rest even knowing that the work will drag on forever.