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Step back from the buffet

Wednesday’s editorial explored the phenomenon of the Big Four, which limits the set acceptable careers for Duke students to four: lawyer, doctor, banker and consultant. Breaking through the restrictive Big Four paradigm can be a difficult task, but proper reflection has a lot to do with it.

Duke students love being busy. Between academics,extracurriculars, social calendars and summer experiences, there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. With so much going on, it is hard to reflect on our experiences and what we have truly learned from them. This is not knowledge to which a grade or a line on your resume can attest, but knowledge that permanently shapes how you view yourself and the world, knowledge that permeates every personal and professional decision you will make in the future, knowledge that an excellent education is supposed to produce.

William Wright-Swadel, Fannie Mitchell executive director of career services, compares the constantly expanding workload of Duke students to a teenage boy at a buffet. In this analogy, the overcommitted student is similar to a hungry teen that tries to pile everything on their plate at once. At the end of the meal, the teen has gorged everything at the buffet, but he did not taste a single bite. Wright-Swadel’s fear is that, by the time they are seniors, Duke students have done everything but learned nothing more than how to successfully multitask. They are stuffed but unsatisfied—making them an easy target for the Big Four, which capitalizes more on student inertia than student passion.

Wright-Swadel shares another observation. Many students returning from study abroad or DukeEngage claim to have had a “life-changing” experience that has altered their worldview. But when pressed on how they plan to integrate that experience into their classes, organizations or post-graduate plans, they go blank. Instead, they just jump back into the daily grind, their “life-changing” experience reduced to a neatly worded takeaway, perfect for regurgitating on personal statements.

This lack of reflection among students has become ingrained in campus culture. This attitude partly explains why leaves of absence are so rarely seen on campus. Many Duke students unfortunately believe that, to get the most from their Duke experience, they need to charge blindly forward—blood, sweat, tears and all. Students rarely pause for an hour of reflection, let alone for a whole semester’s worth, which comes at the expense of their professional lives in the future.

Wright-Swadel says that when unreflective seniors barge into the Career Center in a job search panic, the most he can do is try to make it appear to employers that there was a shred of purposefulness to what these students did over the past four years. We encourage students to start the reflection as early as possible. Freshmen, approach that buffet wisely. Instead of hording everything on your plate and scarfing it down in one sitting, pick a few choice items and truly taste them. Enjoy them, savor them, let them inform your tastes for the future. If you do not like what you ate, you can go back to the buffet and try something else. Your stomach will thank you.

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