Slow and steady wins the race

A few weeks ago, Punxsutawney Phil declared that spring would arrive early this year. What good news! Sunshine is on the way! Well, Groundhog Day this year has got me thinking; it’s a strange concept for many reasons. However, I’ve recently tried to move beyond my confusion over our country’s reverence for this rodent to reflect on the broader significance of this holiday. 

The arrival of spring seems like a universally positive promise. With spring comes fresh starts, longer days and tamer nights. And yet, these springtime gifts have not been in the forefront of my mind lately. Over the past few days and weeks, I’ve caught myself fast-forwarding through spring with my mind set on summer. I’m often dreaming of a break from school work, basking in the sun with friends and family at home. 

To make matters worse, this year more than ever I feel like the spring semester is flying by at an astounding pace. We’ve found ourselves suddenly in the swings of midterm season, and spring break is only two short weeks away. I’ll admit that a lot has happened since we returned from winter break, but it feels like the weeks have passed in a blink of an eye. As a sophomore, the swift passage of time is not one I look upon lightly. I’ll be declaring my major soon, and even if my fleeting time at Duke is lost on me, I’ll have the “halfway there!” celebration in April to remind me that the clock is constantly ticking. 

Spring at Duke runs by faster than the fall for a variety of reasons. The lack of days off in the semester leading up to spring break seems to accelerate the weeks before; weeks mesh together and our interrupted routine makes it hard to differentiate one from another. Once we return from break, it’s even more of a sprint to the finish with five short weeks until LDOC. Beyond the semester schedule, however, I’ve been considering how our mindsets can contribute to this swift passage of time. At the center of it all lies what I see as a culture of “getting through” in college.  

At Duke (and I’m sure we’re not unique as a university in this), we often exist in a mindset of counting down. We countdown the hours until class is over, the days until exams and the weeks until break. We tell ourselves that we “just have to get through this week” or that we’ll “be done once this assignment is over.” I talk to myself this way all the time during tough periods, and I fully understand how it can help manage stress and motivate us to push through hard times. I’ve also found, though, that I sometimes use this logic to make excuses for not taking care of myself and my mental health. I may accept that an entire week is destined to be rough, telling myself that if I put my head down and get through it, I can relax and be happier later. I know I’m neither alone in adopting this mindset nor in acknowledging its danger.

If we continue with this attitude, we risk wishing away the majority of our time here at Duke. In focusing on “getting through” the difficult parts of college, we miss the greater sense of what we’re doing here at all. I’ll be the first to insist that it’s perfectly healthy to look forward to time at home or on vacation. Yet, it doesn't need to come at the cost of cherishing our time in college. 

When I try to abandon the mindset of “getting through,” I wonder what it is I really want to accomplish in my time here at Duke. I certainly don’t want to look back in ten years and wish I had been more present or that I had appreciated each day more in college. However, this sort of presence isn’t easy to practice. It’s difficult to take a step back and consider the broader purpose of college. It takes effort to focus on the present moment rather than the destination. 

One practice I’ve recently begun is doing something unique every day. Whether it’s going for a ten minute walk in the gardens, trying something new at WU, using the massage chairs at the Wellness Center or catching up with an old friend, I try something different whenever I can to make each day unique. I’m also trying to say yes to more. It’s a mantra my mom always insists on, and I know it sounds cheesy, but it helps me feel grounded and excited for each day. 

I’m not trying to be preachy here — I fully recognize that grades and work are important to our time in college and beyond. But I truly believe that we don’t have to make them the most important all the time. We can’t constantly focus on the things we want to be over, because we’ll end up missing all the other good we can squeeze out of our time here. 

We may find a useful motto in the words of the Latin poet Horace, who famously declared, “carpe diem.” While popular culture has traditionally understood this phrase as a call to seize each day with vigor, the literal translation of “pluck the day” seems more fitting to me. When spring rolls around and the flowers start blooming, may we all try to appreciate the delicate beauty of each passing moment.

We are unbelievably lucky to be at a school like Duke — and not just because of the opportunities it affords us when we graduate. We would be doing ourselves and our community a disservice if we neglected the full extent of our potential here. So, as the work ramps up and the weeks fly by, remind yourself that your difficult days here are more than hours to get through. When you cross the stage at graduation one day, I bet part of you will be wishing for them back. 

Anna Sorensen is a Trinity sophomore. Her column typically runs on alternate Tuesdays.


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