The independent news organization of Duke University

Finding the forest

Every semester, I make a list of goals for myself, trying to put into writing what I want to get out of the next four months. The idea, at least in my head, is that by putting my updated list in a prominent place in my room, I’ll be reminded about that full list of goals at least once every day and take more deliberate steps to work toward reaching them.

We’ve now reached the end of the semester—the last semester—and as always, my list of goals has become a mixed bag. I didn’t get to run that half-marathon, but I did get about my target level of nightly sleep, usually only by snoozing well into the morning.

But by far the most challenging bullet point on my list this semester, and all the ones prior, has been the most vague: Step back from the moment and find perspective.

As a denizen of 301 Flowers, those directives are really difficult to live by. The 24-7 news cycle doesn’t offer many opportunities to take a break. Many times this year, I felt like I was living day to day—sometimes hour to hour—just chasing the next thing on my to-do list, from editing the next article to finishing up a problem set to pushing out a breaking news story.

I think the official wise saying for this feeling is “not being able to see the forest for the trees,” and it’s something that has gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. We had tree after tree placed before us on our routes to getting here—the AP classes, the standardized tests, the extra-curriculars, the application essays. To a certain extent, that same mentality carries over into the college setting. Our generation thrives on doing many things at once, and there comes a point at which getting involved with x number of campus organizations means biting off more bark than you can chew. As sports editor, the need to be on Twitter almost constantly certainly didn’t help my ability to come up for air every once in a while.

But with my days on this campus now numbered, it’s easier to see the forest.

I came to Durham intending to double-major in economics and public policy studies while earning the policy journalism and media studies certificate and writing for The Chronicle. I thought I had all that stuff figured out coming out of high school, and I never wavered in any of those aspirations—those are the graduation ceremonies I’ll be attending next weekend.

I’m now not sure whether that’s a good thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of those things—I’ve enjoyed all my classes and built relationships with excellent professors, and The Chronicle’s sports hall was where I truly found myself as a writer and leader. But if I spent my four years here intent on doing exactly what I’d set out to do, what did I miss? Probably a lot. There’s no way to fully immerse yourself in all that Duke and Durham have to offer, but I wish I’d been better about doing things to push my boundaries instead of putting so much emphasis on what was right in front of me.

Through my work with The Chronicle, there have been a few moments this semester that have helped me to try to strike more of a balance between throwing all my energy at the task at hand and trying to appreciate the amazing opportunities I’ve been given here at Duke.

The first came in mid-February, when my conversation with head coach Mike Krzyzewski was interrupted by a phone call. Krzyzewski left the room, then returned and explained that the family of Monty Williams—an NBA assistant coach and assistant with USA Basketball—had been in a serious car accident. His wife passed away a few days later.

The next day, I had a phone interview with former Duke point guard Jay Williams, whose career and life were forever changed by a motorcycle accident in Chicago in June 2003. Once again, it only took seconds to fundamentally alter lives—those conversations were incredibly sobering, but they also helped me keep my personal battles and daily workload in perspective.

The third has been a nearly everyday occurrence. By the time I leave 301 Flowers for the night, there’s not an awful lot happening on campus. On the trek back to my dorm, I spend some time staring right at the Chapel. That building represents a lot of different things to a lot of different people—for me, it’s an affirmation of all the hard work that I did to get to a place as special as Duke, and of all the work I’ve done in my four years here, both in the classroom and for the newspaper.

I’m not sure where that association came from. Maybe it’s because the Chapel is just such an impressive building, and the symbol of this university. Maybe it’s because it’s always lit up at night—rain or shine, win or lose.

Or maybe it’s because last spring, when I finally climbed to the top of the Chapel for the first time and looked out at campus and the Triangle—hundreds of steps above the needs and calls of the daily grind—I saw the forest for the first time.

Ryan Hoerger is a Trinity senior. He served as sports editor of The Chronicle’s 111th volume. He would like to thanks his family for being a source of constant inspiration, support and puns; his V.111 sports masthead (Amrith, Brian and Sameer) for their tireless help; and his friends for putting up with him for four years, encouraging him to get more sleep and tolerating his conspiracy theory about spray-painting the grass before Blue Devil Days.


Share and discuss “Finding the forest” on social media.