As I switched from desktop to desktop, I examined carefully each of the necklaces on the screen. My younger sister was turning 10, and this year I wanted to get her a gift that she could have forever. Two hours later and I was still eight websites away from picking the perfect necklace. They were all almost exactly the same. After another 30 minutes of indecision, I haphazardly chose the necklace that I was staring at. “I’ve just wasted almost three hours of my life,” I thought. I paid for the necklace and acknowledged that it would likely end up snuggled under rubber gravel on the playground somewhere at her elementary school.
But in the moment, the choice seemed so mammoth. Silver? Gold? Sterling silver? Her 10-year-old mind would never think about whether a curb chain or a snake chain was prettier. The truth is I could have gone to the Dollar Store and bought any necklace, and the excitement of getting a package in the mail would have been the same. The obsession over choosing the perfect necklace was less about how the chain would look draped around my sister’s neck and more about reparation. In the past few months, I have regretted many of the choices I’ve made in regards to the relationship I have with my younger sister.
Partially, it’s a time thing. This year, I decided I was going to be much more intentional with how I use my time on campus. I’ve invested myself in extracurricular activities while still trying to maintain academic success, and there are days during which I remember to call home around 3:00 a.m. I could hide behind the classic student excuse of “I just don’t have time,” but the reality is, if I chose to spend 15 minutes of my day talking to her, I probably wouldn’t fail my classes. I used to tell myself that inspiring my sister was one of the reasons I chose to leave home and come to Duke. Lately though, cheap phone calls and choosing expensive necklaces have merchandized any real interaction I’ve had with her.
You’d think that, as I’m almost halfway through college, I’d be getting better at making choices. It’s true that now I seem to be making a lot more “responsible” decisions. When senior friends are applying for jobs, and when your best friend is married and four months pregnant, it is easy to remember that soon choices won’t be blanketed under the assumption of teenage naiveté.
But it’s also the reality that, unlike every other stage in my life, I now feel alone in many of the choices I make. As a child, your actions are largely accredited to your parents—as an adolescent, to your upbringing and juvenile ignorance. Maybe I’m one year behind everyone else, but sophomore year has been the most liberating experience of my life, because it’s the first time I’ve realized that I can literally do almost whatever the hell I want. It’s also the first time that I haven’t let the judgment of others influence the choices that I deem good for myself. And it’s been the most terrifying year of my life, because I’ve quickly realized that, in the face of success and failure, there is both nothing to blame and nothing to credit other than the choices I make.
Even more terrifying is when I realized that my understanding of choices has been wrong for the past 19 years. “Silly Girl! You thought the right choice would always be at least somewhat clear?” Wrong. This year, the not-so-subtle ambiguity that inherently comes with having choices has decided to rage itself all over my life. And despite my true type-A Duke student use of pro-con lists and logical thinking, I’ve found it impossible to encompass all the ambiguity. There wasn’t a parent to tell me whether I made the right decision when I decided to leave the pre-med track. There isn’t a counselor to tell me how or when to prioritize relationships over responsibilities. There will not ever be a friend who can tell me when it’s more important to make a choice that yields immediate happiness versus a choice that may or may not impact my future.
While I understand that little is definite and that the implications of many of the choices I make now may not be as important as they immediately seem, it’s becoming increasingly harder to separate myself from the proximity of these choices. It’s scary to think that these choices are just a sampling of what’s to come after I’ve escaped the bubble of Duke life.
For now, I’ll live with the understanding that, unlike the necklace that my sister received in the mail, there are some choices with implications that I cannot contain in my comfort zone of little boxes.
Nourhan Elsayed is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs every other Wednesday.