Climbing the beanstalk and the sleeping giant I wish I’d slain

farewell column

There are few stranger feelings than being underwhelmed by a lifelong dream.

The first time I visited Duke was in February 2019. With two alumni parents back for the first time in 20 years, that meant walking around campus without a guide, grabbing dinner with fabled friends from their past lives and watching Zion Williamson cook N.C. State inside Cameron Indoor Stadium later that night. For being a place I’d never seen, Duke felt so familiar. 

But when I arrived as a student myself in August 2021, I felt lost.

I was homesick beyond measure, too shy to go out and introduce myself and struggling to make friends. On weekdays, I sunk into my schoolwork then spent weekends alone in my room, binging TV shows until my iPad battery died. My mom tried her best to pull me out of my slump with nightly phone calls and videos of my dog, but she tells me now that this period was the most helpless she ever felt as a parent.

The one thing that made me feel needed was overloading on blog assignments and game coverage for The Chronicle — the only extracurricular I was compelled to stick with.

Steadily, though, hours in the office became less like medicine and more like a morning coffee. Responsibilities I used as a distraction became a welcome part of my routine, and as I spent more time with them, the people I once saw as bosses turned into mentors and then into friends. The example they set made me decide to become an editor — a role I found fulfilling because I could help freshmen struggling to find connections and a purpose just like I had.

Getting elected as Vol. 119 sports editor was in many ways the climax of both my journey to find a safe space and the collegiate mandate to pursue professional advancement — validation that I had found my calling and my people. And yet, rarely have I felt more self-critical than I did during my time as editor.

I was climbing the proverbial beanstalk, sure, but was entirely unprepared for the sleeping giant waiting to knock me down once I reached the top.

For all the successes of my tenure, for all the once-in-a-lifetime chances I was given in the past year, for all the wonderful people I got to know better and the new ones I met, I couldn’t shake the notion that I was doing it all wrong. It was a similar anxiety to my freshman year, but for completely opposite reasons. Instead of worrying about who I would spend time with or if there was a space on campus for me, I was pulled in a million directions by a million different people.

My life, friendships and schedule were so deeply intertwined with my job that I began defining my self-worth by how well I did that job. Trying to balance who I wanted to be as a person with what I wanted to do as editor was a scale that I never quite leveled. 

I grappled with why I worked crazy overtime, went to bed at 5 a.m. and skipped class for a sense of fulfillment that only arrived when a story got clicks or a print edition came together without a hitch. I questioned whether any of my Chronicle friendships were real connections or simply circumstantial conveniences. I wondered whether setting aside time for myself was acceptable because I had a job to do and how I would even fill those hours if I decided to take a break.

The stress and self-doubt snowballed, and because I had stories to publish, I said no to weekday trivia nights, watch parties and games in Cameron as a fan with friends or my freshman brother. I fell behind in my classes and stopped exercising. I felt like a bad friend and bad student — both of which affected my ability to be the positive editorial presence I needed to be. That also meant I catastrophized, and errors caused by a lack of energy and low self-confidence distorted into scathing indictments of my character, all of which made me feel worse.

I can’t say that it was all worth it for the job, because ultimately it wasn’t the job’s fault. What I loathed wasn’t being sports editor but the way being sports editor made me think about myself.

Now, I can see my feelings of inadequacy for what they really were: the products of stress and other deep-rooted insecurities. For too much of the past year, I was burdened by them. That makes me sad, and I’m still nowhere close to finishing the reconciliation process for having one of the hardest years of my life also be the one I had the highest expectations for. I sure as hell don’t know how I’ll grow from it or how I’ll feel about it a year from now. 

What I do know is that this time, I’m not looking for someone to throw me a lifeline. Instead, I’m trying to find one within myself and reshape my perspective so I don’t feel that way again.

Going back to basics is a good place to start. 

First on that list is to remind myself of all the reasons I’m grateful for this paper and the chance to be sports editor — chief among them the opportunity to deliver damn good coverage at a school I love alongside some of my best friends.

Second on that list is to give myself grace. Not just for my mistakes, but for my emotions, which I know don’t come out of nowhere.

The last thing on that list is to accept that I gave this thing my all, and that even at my absolute worst, I never wanted to quit. 

That’s gotta be worth something.

Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and served as sports editor of The Chronicle’s 119th volume. He would like to thank Rachael Kaplan for sticking with him throughout the years on and off press row; Mackenzie Sheehy, Dom Fenoglio and Sophie Levenson for always stepping up to the plate; Ranjan Jindal for giving the department a future to look forward to; Jonathan Levitan and Jake Piazza for showing him what a good leader is; and Chrissy Murray for enabling and funding his wildest sportswriting fantasies.

He would also like to thank Sasha for supporting him over FaceTime every night with kind words and open ears, the monthly reunions that brought him new life and her endless commitment to the bit; his mom, dad, brother Alex and dog Dagger, all of whom kept him steady when he needed it most; the back room of 301 Flowers which will forever be his safe space; and every member of The Chronicle’s past and present for believing in him. You all mean more than you know.

Andrew Long profile
Andrew Long | Recruitment/Social Chair

Andrew Long is a Trinity senior and recruitment/social chair of The Chronicle's 120th volume. He was previously sports editor for Volume 119.


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