As a habitual procrastinator, I’ve had my fair share of late nights, cram sessions and break-downs in Perkins. However, the haggard look I carried around the latter half of my sophomore year didn’t always characterize me. As Yoda says, there is no try. There is only do, or do not. And I did! Well, at least I used to.
A significant portion of us came to Duke never having had to work hard a day in our life. Or at least we never worked hard only to then fail. We were always good at sports, or excelled in piano or were the math wizard for a three-month streak in third grade. We showed up to class, did our work, got A’s and then went to our various extracurriculars of which we were the president--or secretary if we wanted to take it easy. Everyone told us we were stars and so we believed them. And with that we stopped trying to put in actual effort because who needs to try when you, in the words of Beyoncé, “woke up like this—flawless.”
But last year something happened--my usual routine of simply showing up and acing the test wasn’t working for me. Cramming has always been my default, but when I started falling behind in my classes, relationships and even basketball attendance, I had to question my previous methods. Why wasn’t operating at a minimum enough to succeed anymore—to be happy?
I recently read an article that questioned the traditional practice of praising your kid by telling her she’s a rockstar for just waking up. Although, let’s be honest, sometimes that is something to be proud of. For 18 years someone told me I was special and smart and worthy, but when I didn’t wake up a rock star and who I thought I was didn’t cut it, the praise I was given as a child started to seem a lot less valid. I found myself sitting in my math class envying the girl who texted during class and dozed off during lecture but still managed to have it all together. The mentality that attaining success was effortless came back to bite me and I found myself giving up before I even tried for fear of failing. I stopped doing the things that made me happy. I stopped pushing myself to work harder because the identity that others had built up for me was not invincible anymore. She was scared.
So I made a decision, and it started with a suitcase. Now, as most serial procrastinators know, packing is the ultimate test in how long you can delay something. Two times this summer, on my way to Detroit and back, I packed less than 12 hours before my flight. Both times I succeeded, but by the time it came to go back to school, I was over it. I was going to pack for school on time.
When I left that Sunday for Duke, I wasn’t scrambling, I didn’t forget my charger or contacts. I was ready. And I felt good about myself. I made a commitment, albeit trivial in the larger scheme, but it still felt good to follow through for once. I made up my mind that junior year would follow the same trajectory. I wasn’t going to wait until the last minute because it was easy. I was going to try--and fail--because I was worth the effort.
The girl who left Duke this past May is someone I’m sure a lot of people can identify with. When it came to facing head-on all that life demanded of her, she retreated at the first signs of distress. Taking charge of your life is not something they teach you in AP English. It’s scary owning up to all your excuses and those insecurities you’ve been trying to forget about. However, doing as little as possible in order to bypass confronting those demons is not the life you want to live. When you are surrounded by some of the most brilliant people in the world, being complacent is something you can’t—and shouldn’t—consent to anymore.
Maybe you’re different, though. You couldn’t dream of studying more than an hour for a test or you see your friends whenever and everyone loves you, including yourself. But that’s not how it works for me. I realize growing up and tackling the monsters in my closet is not the easy life I had before coming here, but it’s something I’m going to persevere through. Learning here and failing is an opportunity I am lucky to have and I take both my future and, more importantly, what I think of myself now, very seriously.
I hope you do, too.
Brianna Whitfield is a Trinity junior. This is her first column of the semester. Follow her on Twitter at @bwhit923.