It was nearly 3:00 p.m. and I had yet to officially get out of bed. I was awake, yes, but it would be a stretch to claim I was a fully functioning human being. I hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t showered. I had barely moved. My only social interaction was with my two cats that were curled up next to me on my bed. My mother tried several times to wake me up, to convince me that there was more to life than the slums of my room, but her efforts were futile. I was content, happy even, to remain snuggled under the covers in a manner that resembled that of a lethargic, overgrown slug.
Behold: How I spent day three of Thanksgiving break.
I have no shame in admitting that I take great pleasure in being completely and totally useless during the few days of the semester I have off. And during this particular Thanksgiving break, I was especially looking forward to afternoons spent doing absolutely nothing. So there I lay, spending my extended break as I had hoped, when something strange happened.
As I do all too often when I’m alone and feeling contemplative (I really should stop that), I began reflecting on my life and my choices and, in this case, the past semester. I knew I had wanted to get away from school; I was stressed. I was overwhelmed. I was done. But as much as I wanted to leave, I found myself texting my friends and scrolling through Facebook, checking up on how Duke was doing. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I wished I was there. And this really made me consider my motives for wanting to escape in the first place.
To preface, I am a firm believer in the notion that life is amazing always because I am alive and healthy and able to wake up every morning to this beautiful University. I am fully aware of the fact that I have no legitimate complaints in life.
But I am tired.
I am tired of the constant exhaustion, both physical and mental, that seems to accompany each day. I am tired of the academic rigor—of the essays, the projects—and the academic inferiority that occurs as a result, a constant reminder of my intellectual shortcomings. I am tired of feeling like I am not enough, either because a professor’s grade tells me so or a peer’s comment confirms it. I am tired of clinging to relationships that breed nothing but constant disappointment and bitter resentment. I am tired of a social culture that has numbed me, that has made me expect less from my peers and in turn expect less from myself. I am tired of feeling like I am falling behind in the proverbial race to get ahead, whatever that may mean in the college context. And most of all, I am tired of allowing these external factors to have such a strong influence on my perceptions of myself.
This is what I wanted to escape. These are the inadequacies and insecurities and other sources of strife I wanted and needed a break from. And yet, when I finally did leave, I felt the inexplicable and immediate desire to go back. I missed the campus that amazes me, the people who inspire me and the work that motivates me to ask questions, to explore and to think critically about society’s most pressing issues. I missed it all.
So here’s my obligatory end-of-the-semester reflection that basically every columnist goes through: As each day passes, I feel my cynicism brewing and my once hopeful ambitions molding into more practical plans. I came to Duke a wide-eyed freshman that believed that she was smart, capable and able to change the world. But now, I look at myself and I see an increasingly jaded sophomore who is losing the fire inside that has driven her for so long.
But being away has made me realize that I don’t want to spend the next two and half years continuing down this trajectory. I want to reignite that spark, that fire, that passion that I still see in the faces of all the freshmen but not so much in the seniors.
I’m sure my struggles are not that different from anyone else’s here. We all struggle. We all feel inadequate. We all feel at some point or another that we are not enough. But I think it’s important to not let that hinder our broader perceptions of our abilities and more importantly ourselves. Because when we do, when lose that spark, we are ultimately giving up on ourselves, too.
So yes. This semester was tough—academically, emotionally and mentally. I’m sure it was for everyone. But I will get through it and somehow I will be OK. What I want as this semester closes, though, is to not just be OK with the outcome, but to be OK with myself, too. That will be the real challenge, but I think I finally realize it’s one worth taking.
Michelle Menchaca is a Trinity sophomore. This is her final column of the semester.