I am doing fine. It’s the [insert number here] week of Zoom University. I am already tired. And I kind of hate it here, but I am fine.
Ok, how many times have you heard something like this? Or said something similar?
In college, we develop unsustainable and unhealthy habits to achieve success amidst our daily and weekly struggles. And, as Duke students, there is always so much on our plates. Online classes and an ongoing pandemic have not changed that.
We also carry the toximus prime pressures of effortless perfection, which is the self-conscious belief that we have to achieve success and greatness without stressing or breaking a sweat. Our peers zoom around campus flexing their exhausting workloads, involvements and obligations as if their struggles were modern day super powers. And, somewhere along our journeys to achieve success, someone we believed to be wise and talented told us that it comes with great sacrifice.
We, the audacious Blue Devils, with our numerous dreams, take on the nightmarish task of pursuing everything at once. We aspire to study hard. Workout hard. Party hard. Love hard. We dedicate all our energies to chasing our dreams, never settling for less than a success. Because, to us, failure is not an option. Neither is taking a break.
Like Hamilton, we move nonstop in the pursuit of our passions. We tell ourselves that our struggles are superpowers that make us stronger, but they are tearing us apart. We sacrifice nothing on the pathway to perfection, except our health and well-being.
We feel like a different breed with our ability to focus after five consecutive all-nighters and still be “fine.” We overcommit to organizations and accumulate missed deadlines. But we channel our struggles into bullet points to build a pitch desk of excuses for delays, so we are still “fine.”
We schedule our classes back to back and brag about skipped meals and not-needed-snacks. But we eat Pitchforks at sunset, so we are still “fine.” We camp out in crowded spaces to avoid being alone, yet we still feel lonely. But we are in a million GroupMes, so we are still “fine.”
We repeat these little lies until they become a mantra. And the mantra becomes a mindset. And the mindset clouds our reality. We mistake our struggles for super powers because our ambition is our kryptonite. We are students—not superheroes.
We sacrifice our sleep schedules, meals, mental health and more, to maintain the facade of being “fine.” We keep faking it to achieve effortless perfection. But we are in effortless shambles. With our constant all-nighters, skipped meals, missed deadlines and loneliness, we are not “fine.” Neither are most of our peers.
I am Rez Williamson. As a low-income, first-generation scholar, I came here thinking that college, especially at a place like Duke, would be different. Everyone boasted about the Duke Difference. I was blinded by the promise of privilege, prestige and professional opportunities. No one talked about the obstacles that I would have to navigate. Nor did they mention the burdens of Duke’s bureaucratic system, from inaction to indecisiveness to indifference. During my Duke career, I have had to work overtime and recruit allies to overcome various challenges. Similar to our peers, several of the biggest obstacles I faced related to financial support, time management, nutrition and mental health.
As I endured each academic term, I saw a lot of programs about thriving at Duke. I felt disconnected from those programs because I believe that in order to thrive, your environment has to be suitable for you. As a Black queer femme in STEM, I feel like an endangered species in Duke’s heteronormative environment. Succeeding required immense finessing just to work Duke’s mystifying bureaucratic systems in my favor. Finessing is using your talents, resources and innovative thinking to poke holes in the boxes people put you in to shed new light on your situation.
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I have traveled through the trenches of the premed track and back only to switch my major and program at the 11th hour, because I was focused on what success should be for a Duke student rather than what made me happy. I made many mistakes and learned lessons along the way. I discovered resources and vital skills. And I became a stellar advocate for myself and my communities. Now, I hope sharing my insights and creative approaches will help other students achieve sustainable success through strategy—not unhealthy sacrifices.
In this column, “from ‘fine’ to finesse,” I seek to advise students on how to break free from the self-destructive facade of being "fine” and transition to finessing their way through stressful moments with support and strategies. This column will cover a variety of focus points, including self-care practices, professional development and presentation, finances, relationships, etc. To recommend specific topics, fill out this form.
I won’t deny that stress and struggle are inevitable. Life is bound to happen in ways we cannot plan or prepare for, like with the current pandemic. However, I also firmly believe the successful strides are also inevitable, which means that we have the time to dream big, to develop our skills and to take care of ourselves.
Lastly, I believe that the art of finessing is rooted in self-investment, self-care and storytelling. And I encourage my peers to pour into themselves, whether it be mind, body, spirit or bag.
Rez Williamson is a Trinity senior. Their column, "from 'fine' to finesse," runs on alternate Mondays.