There are a lot of things about Duke that I love.
I love the people. My friends are incredible and the people I meet daily inspire, motivate and challenge me.
I love my undergraduate research opportunity. I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible and I’ve actually made change in the world.
I love the faculty. I consider my advisor and a few of my professors FRIENDS of mine. And that’s pretty incredible.
I love the clubs and the events and the subjects I learn and the abroad opportunities and the beauty of the campus.
But there are also things I hate. (I think you all have heard about those things, as I’ve been a bit pessimistic lately, so just see old posts if you’re curious.)
And then there are things I both love and hate about Duke.
For example, I love how everyone is never satisfied with anything less than perfection.
This can be seen in the incredible research students conduct, research they carry out many times until they graduate, leading to world changing findings. Or in the flawless musical theater performances, a cappella concerts, top-notch club and varsity sports teams, or involvement in countless organizations.
But I also hate how everyone is never satisfied with anything less than perfection.
The most obvious way I see that we are never satisfied with anything less than perfection is through our GPAs. A perfect GPA is a 4.0 and it doesn’t seem like many of us feel fully satisfied unless we get that 4.0.
Even our Dean’s List calls for an absurdly high GPA. Most schools Dean’s List is a 3.5; at ours? It’s between a 3.7 and a 3.8, depending on the semester. Our school is filled with Pre-Med and Pre-Law students whose careers simply depend on their 4.0s, at least that’s their mindset.
I never really understood the feeling of getting a “perfect GPA” at Duke because I’d always miss the mark somehow. I would not fully understand something in a class, or simply not care enough to make the extra effort, or get points taken off unfairly on some paper or test.
Until this semester.
In getting my grades back this semester, I have learned that seeing this Perfect GPA can result in two outcomes:
- Becoming addicted to the feeling of “perfection” and striving even more for this GPA
- Realizing that it wasn’t worth it and seriously re-evaluting goals and priorities
Right now I’m sitting on #2.
I’m not satisfied. I’m not proud. I don’t think my entire Duke career is going to turn around now. I don’t think millions of career opportunities are now going to open up for me.
In fact, I almost feel guilty.
I immediately thought about how I could have taken a few more minutes to talk to that girl I ran into in the hallway. I could have stayed up a little later with my friends. I could have been there more for people who needed me. I could have worked a little less hard and still gotten good grades.
What I thought would bring me satisfaction actually just brought me a host of negative feelings.
Sophomore year is the hardest at Duke, and from what I’ve heard from my friends, is really the hardest year at any college.
I think a lot of times high achieving people pour themselves into making one aspect of their life perfect in order to “get back” at how that part of their life has somehow disadvantaged them.
One of my best friends had a terrible year and was just telling me, “next year I’ll just get a 4.0 and I’ll SHOW DUKE. JUST YOU WAIT.”
But, unfortunately, a 4.0 doesn’t show duke anything and you won’t be more satisfied with a 4.0.
In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say something drastic……………..
Getting a 4.0 might just make you LESS satisfied.
The idea that getting a 4.0 will solve all your problems and lead to endless opportunities is a myth.
I’m not discounting all the incredible people I know at Duke who have 4.0s. It’s incredible that you all have accomplished that and I am not discounting the effort required in that or the satisfaction you may feel, but I am wholeheartedly acknowledging that a 4.0 can bring with it a lot of really negative feelings, too… And that if that 4.0 was accomplished from sacrificing many other aspects of your life, it might not have been worth it.
My “Perfect GPA” this semester has brought:
Guilty feelings that I wasn’t social enough, even though I was never not with people and planned every single one of my meals to be eaten with friends for the entire semester.
Confused feelings that I’m too nerdy, even though I’ve never seen Star Wars and stopped reading Harry Potter after the 4th book;)
Worried feelings that I work too hard, even though I know I really just “mastered” how to work efficiently.
Cocky feelings that I deserved this, that I’m the most capable, that I can do anything, even though I really just got lucky and benefitted from some really nice curves.
The list goes on and on.
And so I desperately want all of you to know that a good GPA is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Don’t waste your time trying to “beat Duke” (or: insert college or extracurricular activity) or “prove you’re capable.”
A 4.0 isn’t beating your college. Making a 4.0 isn’t proving you’re capable. I think it’s quite the opposite: NOT making a 4.0 is beating your college and NOT making a 4.0 is proving you’re capable. Let me explain based on semesters before this.
In the three semesters before this one, I said “fuck it” (sorry, Mom and Dad if you’re reading this) to school, grades, and most general outward measures of success. I poured into people, into organizations, into volunteer opportunities, into clubs. I attended events and I explored Durham. I set time limits on how long I’d study because why study any more than is required?
In those semesters, I didn’t let Duke’s culture of needing to achieve perfection get to me. I didn’t sacrifice my own personal health or my ability to be a good friend for something as petty as a number. In those semesters, I didn’t get burned out. (If you saw my last post, I wrote about how burned out I am.) In those semesters, I “beat Duke” and I “proved I’m capable” because I did what was best for ME, not what was best based on society’s unreasonable expectations of achievement at an elite institution.
You see, the key to “perfection” (and I put that in quotes because I don’t believe there is such a thing as perfection, anyway) as a college student is not necessarily getting a 4.0. The key to “perfection” is standing strong in the knowledge that chasing after perfection won’t solve your problems, that a few better grades don’t mean anything about your capabilities, character or heart. The key to “perfection” is breaking from the mold, not doing what everyone else is doing, being unique and being okay with that. The key to “perfection” is knowing when to let to go, to give up, to sit back. The key to “perfection” is setting your own goals, not letting society tell you how to live your life in order to meet some arbitrary expectation.
The key to “perfection” is the ability to revel in your own imperfection.
Here’s to reveling in my own imperfection, in my own ability to stop studying even when I’m not ready for a test in order to be there for my friend. Here’s to reveling in my own ability to say no to doing extra work, to take reasonable classes and not overload, to stop obsessing over a GPA that just isn’t me. I don’t want to leave my mark on Duke by my name on some List. I want to leave my mark on Duke by the ways I loved others, performed service for the university and for Durham as a whole, and for the ways I took risks for my own personal growth. How do you want to be remembered at your college? Strive for that.