"Sophomore slump.” "Wise fool." “Survived the challenges of freshman year but not quite ready to navigate as a functioning person in the real world.”
I mastered the art of not overeating at Marketplace, but I haven't exactly figured out how to turn a passion for philosophy into a career. I grasped the idea of time management, but only with the help of my academic advisor who helped me color-code my schedule. And I thought I figured out domestic skills, but it was only with the help of daily laundry loops by Duke athletics and bi-semester room cleanings performed by my mother.
Who was I kidding—I had no idea how to make decisions on my own, or frankly, how to clean my room. I realized I only got through freshman year relatively scot-free by the support networks that guided me.
Then all of the sudden August 2016 arrived, and sophomore year flung a whole new set of problems at my face—leaving me to figure it out on my own. “What do I want to major in, who do I want to spend my time with, who are my true friends, how much to I want to commit to my passion of running or writing or school, and how do I find a balance between it all?”
Sophomore year has been marked by growing pains, and figuring out who I am and who I want to be. As second years, we are faced with this uncertainty--making big life decisions that will influence our path going forward. We can't necessarily make a bad decision, but we can make a decision that isn't our own.
Lately, I've been doing a lot of soul-searching to figure out my plan going forward, and it's been really hard. I've questioned everything that I've done to get me to this point—how I got to Duke, why I'm on the cross-country team, why I write, why I declared for my political science major, and how I got to having the life I live. I came to Duke with instant friends from the cross-country team, classes chosen for me from my academic advisor and a schedule so jam-packed that I never had a chance to figure out if it was something that I wanted.
I realized I needed to stop. I don't want to graduate with a degree in political science that carries nothing with it because I didn't take the time to engage in my classes or professors. I don't want to take an internship in which I end up filing papers, and only walk away with some extra words to put on my resume. And I don't want to leave my career as a D1 athlete only to say my best times were from freshman year. I realized I can just check off boxes, but none of them would mean anything if they weren't the result of a deliberate choice.
Just like getting a driver’s license didn’t make me a good driver (4 tickets and a few accidents later) or turning 21 will not instantly crown me a responsible drinker, these identity crutches from my major, sport and activities aren't who I am—but merely what I have been doing.
I don't think most people put their entire life up on the table like this to allow decisions to be made on their behalf. However, I think anyone has the potential of being forced into a life they didn’t choose, wondering how they ended up where they are now without any satisfying reason. That is a horrifying scenario, and I’ve been trying to stay on whichever path avoids the kind of midlife crisis that results in having to take up a new passion for bee-keeping.
Growing up is striking the balance between routine and chaos—finding regularity but also spontaneity. It's a matter of questioning choices that are made for us but also not going into complete teenage rebellion. Susan Neiman, a writer, said that growing up is "about thinking for ourselves, and this is something that we're actually too lazy and too scared to do as often as we should."
It's frustrating and paralyzing, putting up our decisions up to question and ensuring that what we are doing is truly at our own will. It's easier to continue down a path of distraction—emails to answer, mandatory exams to study for, social events we feel compelled to attend—and never take a step back and wonder why we’re up to whatever we’re up to.
This semester has been pretty damn awful to say the least, and more stressful than I’d like to admit, but I also think I am lucky enough to have the freedom to make these choices of change, or re-engage in commitment.
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Change can be sexy and give us the illusion of happiness in a new setting, whether we place it in study-abroad—away from this place that is steaming in stress—or jumping into a new friendship—or out of an old one—to avoid the drama of an overworked social life. I've realized all of my ills, stresses and anxieties won't be relieved by temporary distractions. The most rewarding experiences are those that I dive into fully, committed and sure that they are made with decisions of my own volition.
I'm not sure if my running career will lead me to national champion status, or if a political science degree will result in a six-figure salary or if my internship across the country will be a rewarding experience. But I know that if I can control the people I am with, the things that I am doing and goals that I am setting, I can live with that.
Sheridan Wilbur is a Trinity sophomore. Her column usually runs on alternate Tuesdays.