Shifting Away from Work Hard/Play Hard


by Gary Glass

Thumbnail For as along as I have been at Duke, I’ve often been perplexed by the adage so often promoted and obeyed by students, Work Hard/Play Hard. I understand the concept, including the efficiency of the catchy-phrase. Duke certainly isn’t the first place I encountered this.  What’s never quite made sense to me is how they became so prominent here at Duke.  These 4 words--3 words, really--not only fail to capture the intricacy that makes all of Duke students so reflective of the high standards of this university, the words WORK-HARD-PLAY have never been adequately defined to really provide anything that tells us who Duke students are, what they have to offer, and how their attributes contribute to this campus and this world. I invite the community to consider discarding (or at least shelving) these words for some others, and I’d like to propose a set of 4 (actually 4) words that may be more useful, if not more flexible to capture the sophistication of the Duke communities.  Perhaps they might help to guide us toward our potential and toward more worthy reflections of our individual selves and collective identity.

Authenticity. Connection. Purpose. Harmony.

I wonder if each of these words, individually, can provide more of a rich landscape conducive to reflection and conversation. Perhaps more curious is whether this collection of words, including the myriad ways in which dimensions of these concepts intersect and overlap with each other, can offer a framework for self-exploration and mapping out a life-approach toward well-being.

These 4 words, Authenticity, Connection, Purpose and Harmony, are not accomplishments to pursue, they are guiding themes to invite, windows and mirrors to help us understand and celebrate who we are as individuals and as a community. It’s important to keep in mind that a check-list approach to these concepts may lead us down a similar path to the one that resulted in a Work Hard/Play Hard mentality.  Rather than thinking of these in a competitive or accomplishment-minded stance, invite these words and the meaning you can find in them to remain in dialogue. Consider what the absence of Authenticity, Connection, Purpose, and Harmony creates in your life. Contemplate, perhaps, what your unique understanding of these are, to you, and what the opposite of these would be, for you. However, you construe them, consider this invitation to allow the dimensions of your lives that can be expressed by these words to maintain conversation with you and with each other, allowing an ongoing movement toward something that expresses what is meaningful to you, whether you’re working or playing, whether you’re taking it easy or taking things very hard.  Suggest your discoveries to the rest of us, via this blog or through the daily interactions. Check back for more elaborate suggestions for each of these over the course of the semester. Continue to work and play, but don’t insist that you do so in a way that is hard: just true. 

Stay human.