As I laid in bed on a Monday mid-afternoon, I envisioned studying biology, doing my English homework, or even editing this column. “Envisioned” is the key word. These things did not happen, and not because I didn’t think they are important or would be particularly difficult to complete. I just couldn’t do them—it was easier to sleep or watch Netflix or simply lay there and think. Ever since coming to college, I feel chronically unmotivated.
I know a lot of other people who also suffer from this apathy. “I can’t do this [homework or studying]” is a pretty common thing to hear amongst my peers. We are all high achieving students. We arrived at Duke with the same mentalities that brought us from high school with excellent resumes. But somehow a disconnect arose, and many of us choose procrastination over efficiency and productivity.
I am not outright failing; my grades, while not the straight As of my high school years, are decent. Bouts of crippling apathy are punctuated by periods of high stress and extreme dedication where I write quality ten page papers in four hours or learn three chapters in a day. I know that this is a terrible study method. After every stress-fueled session, I vow to change my ways and work hard. But then this lack of motivation seizes me and commands that I go out or have a three hour brunch.
Chalking this behavior up to laziness seems incorrect. I procrastinated a bit in high school, but I was always doing assignments ahead of time and studying extra, as opposed to my current scrambles. Something about the environment of college has created this apathetic overtone. I hear this cycle of unmotivated time wasting followed by hyper-productivity recounted to my by other students over and over. There are a lot of people at Duke who can manage their time efficiently, but I notice a growing trend of people who work and feel like me.
The cause of my apathy could stem from many sources. One that particularly stands out is the availability of easy socializing. In high school, I went from 7:15 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. classes to cross country practice to my house where I would shut myself in my room and do homework until late at night. I was structurally prevented from socializing instead of studying. I could have made plans to work with people after school, but the added hassle of driving somewhere and coordinating dissuaded me. Now all my friends are only a text and a couple dorms away. I could walk into the common room and find people to waste time with. I feel tantalized by the possibility of so many fun social activities in a way that I never was in high school.
I didn’t think the phrase “burned out” would apply to me as a college student. I remember working hard in high school, but not to the point where I felt unable to continue working harder in college. I don’t think unmotivated students are burned out per se; we are instead coming to see the things that our lives lacked previously.
The amount of free time I have has increased exponentially. As I inch closer and closer to “real” life, I begin to use this time to doubt my life plans. Do I want to be a doctor? A person I know recently realized that they don’t have to be a doctor, causing me to wonder for myself. Do I care about having a lot of money? That seems like a pretty shallow priority. Do I care about being as high-achieving as I was in high school? I know less hard-working friends at lower-ranked schools who are doing fine and will be successful.
What you realize in college is that things don’t matter as much. Sure, your grades and resume matter for employment. But being the best no longer matters as much as being good enough. And good enough changes day to day: from straight As pre-med to passing-her-classes. There isn’t one way to be good enough, and that is what college has taught me.
Friends and sleeping more than five hours a night are really nice! It’s hard to resist these things to sit in a sad study room and memorize facts when you spend half of that time questioning whether the sad study room and facts will even get you somewhere you want to be, and the other half internally screaming, “Do your damn work, or you will eliminate any chance of medical school!”
I also know a lot of students with hard and fast goals, who work to the extreme for these goals, and seem satisfied. To those people, I raise my glass—you are the envy of many at Duke. But for the rest of us, those crippled by apathy and indecision, you are not alone.
Camille Wilder is a Trinity junior. Her column usually runs on alternate Thursdays.
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