As I entered my fourth semester at Duke, I realized a pattern in my starts to the semester: a feeling of dread and of being overwhelmed. Instead of feeling excited for all the amazing opportunities and experiences that will come my way the next four months, I find myself simply anxious about them.  Many of my home friends and Duke friends spoke daily about how they couldn’t wait to return to school, yet I found that I simply couldn’t relate.  

Do I not love Duke as much as I thought I did? Well, no. I do love Duke. I’ve made what I know will be lifelong friends here. I’m interested in the classes I take and I’m passionate about everything I’m involved in, both on Duke’s campus and off. I truly believe that Duke is the best place in the world for me to be. So why then did I feel so unexcited to return to Duke?  

As I returned to my apartment days before the start of classes, I already found my schedule packed and my to-do list growing. Even though every event on my calendar was something I genuinely loved and looked forward to, the clear lack of free time between my responsibilities made them feel like just that—responsibilities. That was when it hit me: my extracurricular activities, those classes I loved, and even my social outings had begun to feel like chores rather than voluntary choices I’d made to fill my time with activities I enjoyed.  

When activities no longer feel like conscious decisions, when the agency you originally exerted to begin them in the first place is gone, the enjoyment goes with them. There is a constant pressure at Duke to avoid free time and to make your day as obligatory as possible. But where exactly is the pleasure in that?  

There’s definitely something to be said for making commitments and sticking to them. By no means am I advocating for everyone to quit any responsibility they currently have because it stresses them out. But at least in my own life, I need to critically think about each and every aspect of my life here at Duke. I want to dig deeper to re-evaluate why I’m involved in each and honestly assess what it provides to me both as a person, and to the campus community that surrounds me. If at the end of the day, the weight of an activity is taking away from the self-growth and fulfillment it gives me, then maybe it’s not worth my time anymore.  

I have begun to view my involvements at Duke as a plate that just keeps getting piled on without anything ever subtracted from it. I feel that once I’m involved, there is no way out—they constitute a mandatory commitment for the rest of my Duke career. But of course, that’s not how free will works. 

College is the time to be self-focused. It’s the time to try things, yes, but also to feel comfortable stepping back from those things if their weight becomes too heavy to bear. I became involved in activities at Duke to add to my life, to invigorate and inspire my experience here. Feeling depleted by them both eliminates their purpose and drains the enjoyment from them.

My goal for the semester is to begin streamlining my passions. As more and more opportunities become available to me, I want my time to be an asset rather than a finite resource over which I battle internally each day. Returning to an environment like Duke should be, and remains, a privilege. The stress and dread I felt at the beginning of this semester due to my overcommitments only detracts from my experience here. Making the most of one’s time doesn’t mean efficiently piling as many things as possible into a 24-hour time block, but instead being able to consciously reassess one’s values, emotions and dedications. I, for one, am ready to start feeling excited again about my life at Duke instead of cornered by it.