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A love letter to the lonely

guest column

Dear Lonely Friend, 

Two weeks ago, a former professor asked me to participate in a student panel for the first Ethics FOCUS cluster discussion. Understandably, they asked me to speak positively and keep mentions of low points to a minimum. Here is the way it went: “Join these clubs, I loved FOCUS, Duke is great, blah blah blah.” I was happy to share with the freshmen, and everything I said was true. But that was only part of my freshman experience. The rest is a little more discouraging. 

I spent a lot of my freshman year feeling very alone. From the outside, I think I seemed okay, and mostly, I was. I liked my classes and had a great group of friends who I spent time with often. But there would be nights when I laid in bed and wished to go home, less because of homesickness and more because I didn’t like the way college made me feel lost. In my head, it felt like maybe if I left, I’d find myself again. If you’ve read this far, you probably understand.  

I remember going to the club fair looking for a quirky club to join—something that had to do with eating fun foods or watching movies. While there were some options, I found that clubs were overwhelmingly pre-professional. There were business fraternities, law fraternities, medical fraternities, you name it. And to top it all off, you had to apply to all these clubs (as if social fraternities and sororities weren’t already exclusive). I had been okay with that sort of exclusivity in high school because I thought everything would change in college. Yet I still felt that every-man-for-themselves kind of atmosphere. Even FOCUS felt competitive, the way people—myself included—would force their way into discussions, even if just to repeat the previous student’s analysis in different words. Do you ever get wrapped up in feelings like that?

But it wasn’t just that college felt more competitive than I expected. It was that it seemed like everyone around me was already thinking about research and summer internships and study abroad, and I was just… there. Even the people who were less focused on academics knew what they wanted—which fraternity or sorority they wanted to join, which parties they were going to next. Logically, I knew that most people weren’t as put-together as they seemed, and a lot of people were pretending to be happy or convincing themselves they were. But it didn’t feel like that. 

I now understand that that atmosphere only affected me like it did because I didn’t know who I was. I still don’t. I’m in my sophomore year still unsure of what I’m going to major in and what I’m doing next summer, much less what I want to pursue as a career. 

But I’ve got some good news for you: I’ve recently decided that there’s something nice about being lost. Being lost is exciting because, at this very moment, I know that I could end up as a journalist, an artist, or a lawyer. I like knowing that I have all this potential and no one, not even me, knows where it will take me. It’s like I’m living in the most exciting moment of a choose-your-own-adventure book when the time has come for me to make a choice that will determine the rest of the story. 

I know what you’re thinking, and I agree. It’s not always that easy to think optimistically. Sometimes I’m back to feeling lost, like I’m stumbling around in the dark while my peers leave me behind.  

I read this great book last week, Darius the Great Is Not Okay (you should read it if you get the chance). It’s about this Iranian-American boy who feels out of place in the world. He is afraid to be different, afraid to disappoint others, afraid of himself. And he feels very alone. If you can get over the slight cringiness common to YA novels, it’s actually very deep: it tells us that it's okay not to have everything figured out. And it’s okay to not be okay.

I wrote this letter to you in the hopes that it would make you feel a little less lonely. I hope it did. If you see me on campus, just know that at least one other Duke student is far from put-together. Please wave. Then maybe we can feel alone together.  

Your friend, 

Zoe

Zoe Spicer is a Trinity sophomore.

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