My first homecoming of sorts came freshman year when my
family helped me haul my suitcase across the Atlantic from our compact London
apartment into an equally compact Randolph 212. There I was, at the end-goal of
my high school education where I was going to major in ‘x,’ join ‘y’
organizations and take part in ‘z’ programs. I wasn’t completely set on my variables
yet, but I had a formula. What I failed to process, however, was how my
one-woman strategy would be tested by the nearly 2,000 freshmen that were
descending upon East Campus that day.
Every time someone in my class would invite me to a study session or offer to come by and explain a section, I’d warily wonder if this meant I was accumulating some unspoken debt that they could later collect with interest. It turns out I wasn’t. Duke was quickly shaping into the antithesis of what my older friends had told me about college—that it was full of sabotage and cutthroat competition.
Entering senior year, I whittled down my list of commitments, determined to spend my last two semesters with friends, raising my GPA and finding a job. However, just when I thought I could start planning my year, a series of unforeseeable events took place and I was offered the Photography Editor position at The Chronicle on my first day of Fall semester.
Working at The Chronicle as an editor can be stressful—and enormously time-consuming—but every heart-wrenching and heart-making moment during your time there becomes memorable. I’ve learned more in my semester as a department head about interacting with people and thinking on my feet than ever before. But after two years of being on the photography masthead, my biggest lesson has been learning to ask for help. There have been so many people who have helped me along the way here in school, but when it came to a team that I was spearheading, a position that came with explicit requirements, I needed to handle it.
After a particularly stressful and deadline-filled night, I was talking to a friend on staff about how overwhelmed I had been lately, when she asked me, “Why didn’t you let me know?”
I was dumbstruck. Especially when she offered to help in the future. Here was one of the busiest people I knew on campus, and she was willing to chip in and help here and there when no one else could. Asking for help had always been a last resort to me—it had never occurred to me that I could seek it when things were still manageable or even when it was “too late” to ask at all.
“Help” was only something to shout during emergencies.
As Duke students, we fall victim to the assumption that everyone is too busy,
too tired, too something. Often, it’s true. We take pride in the challenge of going “all in.” I’ve even heard people say that they chose their major because they believed it to be the “hardest” one.
While applying to American colleges, what struck me the most about the process was the emphasis on how almost all schools were seeking leaders—presidents, heads, founders, captains. They searched for students who could hold the weight of a team while balancing the other aspects of their lives without falter.
I certainly adopted the mentality that taking on responsibility, especially when where others relied on me, meant that I needed to get everything done at any cost—all while being in control. Perfecting the art of the Perkins all-nighter, I found that I could make any workload possible if I willed myself, and so I made no changes. But being able to handle things on my own didn’t mean that I should have, or that it was the best for everyone else.
After sending out assignments for coverage to our listserv, I’d often receive a trickle of replies. Sometimes, none would get picked up. Other times, they would be snagged within minutes, regardless of how high or low profile the events were. The department, however, saw the biggest difference when we’d personally reach out to individuals and ask them for help. When photographers saw that we needed them, almost everyone was happy to make the time to pick something up.
To everyone who did this, thank you.
My final thoughts are these—take a risk and ask for help if you need it. After all, a job well done is better than a job done. In a worst-case scenario, you’ll be in the same position as you were already in. In a best-case scenario, a great individual will help you out, and that could you encourage you to do the same for someone else. It might make all the difference.
Sophia Palenberg is a Trinity Senior and a former Photo Editor. She would like to thank her wonderful family, post-1AM ChronSupport, Maxwell, Randolph, friends and boyfriend for making these the best four years of her life. To my incredible dad: you were right (like always). I loved it here and miss you every day.