I’m tired of a lot of things. I’m tired of studying. I’m tired of change. I’m tired of pretending that I have my life together.
But most importantly, I’m tired of talking about my summer plans, or lack thereof.
The classic Duke small-talk has transitioned from, “How’s your semester going? Are you feeling adjusted?” to, instead, “What are you doing this summer?”
You know, I don’t find Duke a very academically competitive place. What I mean by that is that I don’t think students purposefully attempt to disadvantage other students for their own personal academic gain. I don’t think Duke students shy away from academically helping their peers. However, I do think we are Life Competitive. We want to be the prettiest, the most accomplished, the most popular, the most together…. We want it to seem like our life is better than others’ lives. And that includes having the best summer plans.
I first felt this pressure and competition to have the best summer right before Winter Break my freshman year. It seemed like everyone around me was applying for these incredible internships and Duke programs, while all I really wanted to do was go home, be with my family, and read all the books I don’t have time to read during the school year.
Don’t get me wrong, every summer program sounds incredible. They all seem to provide a way for students to help make the world a better place, something I believe every Duke student deep down wants to do. But just because all of these programs exist, and just because they are incredible, does not mean they are right for everyone, or that by doing one over another, or doing one at all, that you are somehow better than your peers.
And that’s when it gets competitive. All of a sudden Duke students are comparing their summers, trying to prove that they are more global, that they did more, that they watched less Netflix over the three months.
That’s why over Winter Break of my freshman year, I applied to every program that interested me: some were Duke programs, some weren’t. Some I was decently qualified for, others were way out of my league. I wanted to join the conversation, join the competition. My summer would be cool, too, dammit.
When the time came for me to choose my summer plans, I had a complete breakdown. I had spent all of my time applying to programs that I only wanted to do so that I could talk about them to other people, programs that would just look good on paper, but wouldn’t make me feel good. Programs that checked boxes towards my potential career, that made me “stand out”, that made me feel I deserved to be at Duke.
So, as Winter Break approached, I knew I needed to reconsider my “Summer Applications To Do When I Have Time” list. Did I really want to spend my entire Winter Break applying for programs I didn’t actually want to do?
I sat down and took a long look at my list. I crossed off any programs I felt wouldn’t be truly fulfilling, all the programs that wouldn’t grow me as a person, all the programs that I felt would just be too challenging—whether academically, emotionally, or physically, and all the programs I felt wouldn’t empower me to continue on my journey towards changing the world.
That left me with two or three. And those two are three, when explained to someone else, don’t sound that extravagant. But I’m not trying to impress anyone, I’m not trying to win the award for the best summer, I’m not trying to sound on top of life when someone casually asks me what I’m doing this summer. Instead, I’m telling the truth, and I’m pursuing a summer that I will actually enjoy, where I will truly give back, and where I can confidently say that I spent three months doing what was best for myself, not best for Duke or my resume.
What are you doing this summer?