Your hobbies are dying, and I know why. You’re in the clutches of chemistry pre-labs, or maybe you’re slaving away at problem sets. Maybe you’ve been sacrificing your sleep for your 8:30 a.m. lab. Whatever it is, your hobbies don’t feel important in comparison. So, you haven’t touched a sketch pad in months, or maybe you haven’t done yoga since you came to Duke. You haven’t sung in weeks, or maybe you can’t remember the last time you wrote a poem. You haven’t been feeling like yourself lately.
At Duke, it’s so easy to devalue your non-academic pursuits. In other words, in the chaos of cutthroat academia, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a whole person. Maintaining a good GPA isn’t what makes you, you.
Instead, your identity hinges on how you spend your time when you think no one’s watching. It’s the horrible movies you and your friends like to laugh at when you feel homesick. It’s the way you wonder if a stray cat is hungry when you see it wander across the quad. It’s the midnight shower ballads that you sing and the authors whose words haunt you at night. Your identity is not school. It is an amalgamation of what you think is interesting, soul-crushing or simply fun. Can’t that be enough? How can we convince ourselves that our little hobbies carry immense value?
Well, I can tell you what not to do. Don't intellectualize your hobbies. Some passions don't need awards to prove their worth in your life. In high school, I fell into this trap of wanting to collect awards.
I liked writing, so I tried my hand at poetry. I enjoyed it, but to justify this more artistic usage of my time, I said to myself, “Well, I might as well win some awards for it.” Initially, it was innocent, Scholastic Art & Writing awards gave me the creative validation I wanted, but quickly I began to write for the pure incentive to be recognized. And just as quickly, my writing got worse. It became soulless and ingenuine. I had begun to write for the eyes of other people. I wrote what I thought the judges wanted to hear.
But, it’s the poems that never got awards that still remain my favorites. The pieces that never saw the light of day. The ones that make me feel like I’m snooping through my own diary. The ones that were intimately vulnerable. Hobbies don’t have to be award-winning. You don’t even have to be particularly good at them; you just have to enjoy them. There’s something liberating about simply doing something for pure enjoyment.
Carve out time in your insane schedule to do things that you genuinely love, no matter how “unacademic” they sound. If you like reading, you don’t have to be obsessed with Ernest Hemingway — you can read YA fiction if it's enjoyable to you. Not everything in your life has to be part of some quest for higher understanding. Not everything in your life should be LinkedIn-worthy. Sometimes you just need a break from orgo or whichever awful math class you’re begrudgingly taking this semester. Go be awful at that instrument you haven’t played in months. Go sketch something and remind yourself why you like being creative. Hell, do a crossword for no other reason than because it's fun.
As Director of Academic Engagement/cool lemur scientist Lydia Greene said to me, “Go be a person.” You’re doing yourself a disservice by committing to twenty academic pursuits you don’t even like, to reach an impossible standard of success defined by everyone else but you.
This article is a call to action. I beg you to re-examine the way you spend your time. Do you genuinely enjoy the clubs you show up for week after week? Is that lab actually interesting, or did you join it because someone told you you needed to? Do you have actual hobbies or just resume-padding?
I don’t mean to send you into a spiral- you have plenty of time to figure it out. Just don’t let the things that make you incredibly interesting be blindly replaced by ingenuine pursuits. Go be a whole person rife with embarrassing hobbies and nerdy hyper-fixations. You owe it to yourself.
Susan Chemmanoor is a Trinity first-year. Her column typically runs on alternate Fridays.
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Susan is a freshman in Trinity. Her columns run on alternate Fridays.