Social life? Sleep? Good Grades? It seems we can only ever get two of these at a time here at Duke. Even after countless time management lectures, and many hours spent on schedules, I struggle to find balance. The careful plans I make always seems to fly out the window within a matter of hours. An exciting social event will come up, assignments will take longer than I expected, or an unexpected wave of exhaustion will wash over me as I grow tired from trying to keep up. Life can certainly be chaotic here, especially at the end of the semester. The stresses of Duke have a great influence over the choices we make on an everyday basis. Should we eat dinner with friends or get an extra hour of studying? Is it worth an all-nighter to study math? Pressure comes from parents, other students, teachers, and even people we don’t even know. The future employer, the kid in the class who destroys the curve, and the thought of our own future selves looking back on Duke all add to the stress of making choices here at Duke.
As a sophomore this year, I am already looking back on my freshman year and making changes to my life accordingly. There isn’t usually much free time to reflect carefully at Duke, but two years have already gone by and before I know it I’ll be graduating. While some freshmen saw college as a new start, I arrived here intending to hang on to my high school identity for as long as I could. It was a safety blanket, and I felt comfortable defining myself a certain way. I had excellent grades, I ran track, and I played in the orchestra. I defined myself by the activities I participated in and placed importance on my skills and abilities. I was also quiet and introverted, and a little bit dorky. These bits of my personality have certainly stuck with me through college, but what I thought were my most defining characteristics evaporated when I set foot on this campus. I didn’t know how to describe myself to others; My grades here aren’t anything special, I’m not a student-athlete, and I haven’t played my violin in two years. Coming to college, freshmen have to redefine themselves, and for a lot of people that’s refreshing, but for some it’s uncomfortable and scary. Making choices during orientation week seemed life-changing. Do I go to Shooters, or not? Will I have any friends if I don’t? Looking back now it seems ridiculous to base long-lasting friendships on such an inconsequential choice.
Throughout freshman year I fell back into the habits of high school. I felt the same pressures to achieve academically, and I stayed in a relationship with my high school boyfriend (who was still in high school at the time). I couldn’t seem to let go of anything from the past and grab hold of life in college. I spent most nights in my room doing work or talking to old friends and family. I chose good grades and sleep over a social life. Other freshmen chose social lives over sleep or grades, or grades and a social life over sleep, but I did know one thing for sure: I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have it figured out.
This year, however, I’ve been better at balancing academics, health, and friends. I look back on my freshman year and regret spending more time with books than with people. I had unrealistic expectations of myself; 4.0? Double major and a minor? Shooting for the moon may land us among the stars, but it can also isolate us from the people and community at Duke. Goals are important, but many times it’s the journey to achieve it that teaches us the most. Duke is an opportunity I’ll only have this one time, for two more years. I want to remember it in a positive light, and over-stressing about grades and achievements isn’t going to make many happy memories for me. As a sophomore, I’ve focused more on making choices that will result in my mental well-being. I want to have friends to catch up with and crazy stories to tell when I graduate. Of course, I also want to have decent grades, but I don’t want to define myself on my academic abilities all the time. Sometimes it’s ok to have a little fun, especially in college! One of the hardest parts of Duke is actually being accepted into the University. When the going gets tough, it’s time to think about all the wonderful opportunities we have had as students here and make choices that will truly benefit us. Staying happy and healthy is just as valuable as an A+.