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Dear Noah: On a see-saw with a sumo wrestler

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Dear Noah,

Mazel Tov! You’ve survived O-Week and your first two weeks of college! Who would’ve thought that you would come so far in such a short period of time? Now that you have successfully navigated finding your classes, locating the Duke Card office, and washing a pile of laundry the size of a human child, let’s get down to business and talk about Panera.

Panera Bread is a magical place where you are just as likely to find a hipster with a face tattoo reading Karl Marx while sipping on a latte, as you are a gaggle of middle-aged women simultaneously playing mah-jong and hosting a bi-weekly book club meeting. It brings people from all different backgrounds together to collectively indulge in a delicious and nutritious assortment of soups, salads, and sandwiches. Spicy Thai Chicken Salad (510 calories)? Yes, please! Clam Chowder in a bread bowl (570 calories)…to die for! Apple, Roasted Turkey, and Cheddar nestled in betwixt two warm slices of Cranberry Walnut bread (710 calories)…give me a break!  

There is just so much to choose from. So, I’m sure it infuriates you, as it does me, that Panera only allows you to choose two items from its pantheon of delicacies as part of the “Pick Two” promotional deal. Can you get three? Nope. Sorry. Just two. Salad & soup OR soup & sandwich OR salad & sandwich OR some combination thereof. It’s the most trivial of first world problems, but still, I hope you can understand my outrage. 

Sadly, this curse is not unique to our friendly suburban eatery, but exists right here on campus as well. Soon after I arrived at Duke, a few upperclassmen, sharing the collective knowledge of generations of university students before them, told me what seemed like a fact of collegiate life: that I had to choose between getting sleep, having a social life, and receiving good grades. “In college,” they said, “you can only pick two.” Suddenly, choosing between salad, soup and a sandwich didn’t seem like such a travesty. It’s much harder to decide how to spend your time than it is your money.

Luckily, over the course of the last few years, I have discovered that the Pick Two myth is a load of poppycock! And here’s why:

Lying underneath what we refer to as the three facets of college life, consisting of school, sleep and social engagement, are the three more intrinsic human facets of the self: the mind, the body and the soul. Each of them is essential to your personal growth. Without one, the other two suffer, and vice versa. Thus, life, especially your life in college, is all about finding balance between the three parts of your inner composition. This is all pretty abstract right now, so I’m going to use an extended metaphor to better illustrate what I mean.

Imagine a see-saw. You are on one side, and on the other, sits a 400-pound half-naked sumo wrestler wearing a廻し(mawashi). This sumo wrestler represents everything in life outside of your control. He’s this big, intimidating, massive dude who you really don’t want to mess with because a) he’s enormous and b) he’s wearing a diaper. Once he sits down on the see-saw, you can bet that you’re going to be suspended on the other side of the scale, five feet up in the air, feet dangling, butt hurting. If the wrestler pushes off the ground and starts jumping up and down, you have no choice but to be taken along for a joyride because he’s just so much bigger than you. Life can feel life this sometimes, especially as you find yourself in a new environment. Things outside of your control can throw you into a state of panic, and it’s easy to feel like you are being taken for a joyride by a sumo-wrestler on a see-saw.

That’s why it’s important to be grounded. Grounded, in this context, doesn’t necessarily mean humility, though humility is important too. What I mean is having your feet firmly planted on the ground so that when the winds of life try to blow you over, you’re able to resist those gusts and keep standing tall. Groundedness gives you the strength to be resilient and the courage to be kind. So, if we are going to keep up this metaphor, being grounded literally means getting larger until you can tip the scale of the see-saw and place your feet firmly on the ground. Once there, you’ll be able to handle whatever the sumo-wrestler throws your way because you’re no longer the child you once were. You’ve grown.

A balanced life is that which gives you the optimal conditions to grow. Just like a farmer must give her crops attention and care so that they may sprout, so too, must you give yourself the ideal circumstances to prosper and become grounded. And in order to find balance in your life, you must devote time and energy to each of the three facets of yourself. 

In my next column, I’ll delve deeper into these areas of your life and talk about ways in which you can ensure you are giving each its due diligence. But for now, take solace in the fact that you are in a place where it is your full time job to grow. That’s all college really is when you strip away the pizza and parties and lectures and labs: an investment in yourself. And after it is all said and done, the see-saw will still go up and down, as the unpredictability of life will surely continue to ebb and flow. I hope that at the end of it, though, you’ll end up back on your feet, very much in control of that bowling ball of flesh and cloth your opposite.

Your loving brother,


Grant Besner is a Trinity senior who one day aspires to operate his own alpaca farm. His column, “Dear Noah,” runs on alternate Mondays.


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