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Is busy so bad?

I chose Duke because I wanted to be busy.

It’s easy to forget that on a daily basis. Like most students here, I wake up in the morning and rush from class to meeting to lunch date to class to meeting, and I try to find time to work out somewhere in there. I rarely “hang out” with my friends and I spend far more time in Perkins than I do watching movies or reading for pleasure. I plan my social schedule into my agenda like a chore.

This structured chaos is easy to complain about. It’s sometimes called “effortless perfection,” and it is ingrained into Duke’s culture like the heavy stones of the Chapel and the wind-worn tents of K-Ville. It’s especially easy to complain about when you feel your life sliding out of balance—when you miss three meetings in a row because you accidentally turned off calendar notifications, when you realize you haven’t eaten a fruit in three days, when you see a Facebook event for a music festival downtown and wish you had the time to go.

But I am done complaining about my schedule.

A litany of columns—released not just over the past few months, but over decades of Chronicle commentary—harp on the dangers of this exhausting social culture, of full schedules and lack of engagement. My friends are right to elucidate these shortcomings; they bring up alarmingly common mental health issues and a lack of meaningful social connection. However, it took me a trip to Providence, Rhode Island to fully understand my own complicity in a false predicament.

I traveled to Brown University for the first time a few weeks ago to attend a conference on Poverty and Homelessness. It was a cold and rainy weekend and I’d dressed for North Carolina weather, but I nevertheless enjoyed seeing the campus. For a bit, I lamented the fact that I had never toured the school or given it a thought. My hosts were kind and clever and read queer feminist theory in their rooms, looking up to discuss particularly salient lines. They played guitar together and wrote poetry. Nobody seemed burdened by the self-righteous stress that clouded Duke.

On Saturday night, several student bands performed in the student union and their coffeehouse venue overflowed with Brown students waiting to see their friends play. There was no such thing as Shooters—or at least, nothing to the same magnitude.

Throughout my weekend away from Duke, I had time to reflect. This reflection came at the perfect time—a time in which I was becoming exhausted, a time in which I was beginning to take Duke for granted. I saw in Brown much of the leisure I felt I was missing… And by the end of the weekend, I remembered why I chose Duke.

I remembered that I saw in Duke pockets of Brown—rooms where I could sit and read queer feminist theory and discuss with friends, coffeehouse concerts that I could nod along to, and so much more. I saw people who entertained beautiful, lofty, idealistic perceptions of the world, but were also driven to confront its gritty realities. People who had passions and interests and wanted nothing more than to tackle them headfirst in every sense of it. It wasn’t necessarily that Brown didn’t have these people, but that Duke came with a sense of urgency and purpose that was palpable and contagious. It represented who I wanted to be, and it still does.

I chose Duke because I wanted a packed schedule. I wanted all of the resources that sometimes feel overwhelming in their magnitude but that are always willing and ready to be exploited for good by the creative student mind. 

I chose Duke because, in stark contrast to many of the students from my high school, people here seemed called to something—even if that thing were finance or consulting—and they seemed ready to succeed no matter the obstacles.

Duke has been hard. It keeps me occupied all the time and expects the best of me. But it has given me so much. It has allowed me to spend my evenings at Durham Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods discussing affordable housing, my mornings creating my own podcasts on free software, and my afternoons organizing carpools to national rallies. 

The thing about being busy is, Duke is full of choices. We all have 24 hours in a day, and we all are allowed the opportunity to fill those hours with our priorities. We can make the decision to go out even if we have a midterm the next morning (I often do), to prioritize our romantic relationships over our class readings (I usually do), to spend more time on extracurriculars and off-campus involvements than working on papers (I always do).

So while time is precious and fleeting, I refuse to let the social pressure to be stressed get to me anymore. I like being occupied if it’s for the right reasons. And I couldn’t do that without Duke.

Leah Abrams is a Trinity sophomore and a Managing Editor of the Opinion Section. Her column, “cut the bull,” runs on alternate Fridays.

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