When I got to college, everyone said it would be the most fun four years of my life.
That sounded so freeing, so exciting because I honestly didn’t have that much fun in high school. I technically did what people would call fun things: I went out, would go to parties, got dinner with people, you know, the typical stuff. But rarely would I lie in bed at night and think, “that was so much fun.”
Partly, I was just too busy. I was playing field hockey 20 hours a week year-round, taking too many AP classes, singing in a cappella performances every week, and trying to be a good friend to too many people—I never really had a group, so I floated around and became socially exhausted trying to invest in everyone. I also got left out a lot. I’d think I was in a group, and then they wouldn’t invite me to some party or event and I’d second-guess it all over again. Going to parties that are supposed to be fun, but where you’re not sure if you were pity invited or really invited makes those events not as fun.
Many of you all know my story and how I became depressed my sophomore year of college. I remember my parents asking me to think about how I define fun. And I couldn’t answer them. Everything I knew to be fun felt tainted and I saw the world in blue and black. Running, something I’ve always found to be fun, I began abusing—running too much and restricting my eating—to the point where even running wasn’t fun anymore.
The year spun out of control for many, many reasons: read any of my posts from 2015 and 2016 and you’ll see my world at that time. But then sophomore year finally ended and I went abroad from May until December, with a few home visits in between, and I realized what fun is to me.
Fun to me is going on adventures, exploring, being active, investing in people, engaging in meaningful conversations, and taking risks. Fun to me is not standing on the outskirts at parties, rushing from event to event, sitting around gossiping about how we hate the people we also call our friends. For some reason, this other, not-fun kind of fun seemed to be the fun I found myself in time and time again in high school and even in college.
It wasn’t until junior year of college that I could finally articulate what fun is to me. Since then, my life has been a new journey of “leaning in” to fun, of loving life and not looking back. I have grown into a better version of myself, having found new joy in spontaneity and adventure, and confidence in the random and unknown.
As a result, I told my parents that 2018 would be the year of leaning into fun—of investing in people who have fun, choosing a career path that is fun, going on fun adventures, saying yes to spontaneity, and saying no to what others might call fun but what I know is not fun for me.
So, to make 2018 fun….
I started training for half marathons again.
I volunteer more.
I went to Iceland for six days in the middle of the semester.
I took on more hours with my virtual job, because I love it and it matters.
I sleep in.
I stop and have a conversation with people when I run into them, instead of rushing where I’m going.
I walk 40 minutes back to my apartment instead of driving.
And I open my heart to new people and new possibilities.
Now, I know this semester may seem indulgent and insane.
But is it?
Our world is obsessed with looking busy, proving we have so much we need to do, coming off as important and change-makers. Especially at Duke, there is massive pressure to work hard—every minute of every day. In fact, I used to heap guilt onto myself when I wasn’t working. I would tell myself I didn’t deserve fun or breaks because I hadn’t been productive enough that day. We act like it’s a crime to have fun.
Working hard and helping people could not be more important. Considering our own privileged bubble of care-free opportunities and working our hardest to help make others’ realities better is something I will work my whole life to do. But at the same time, we need to stop beating ourselves up for having fun. We help each other, and ourselves, the most when we stop and find fun. In fact, many times when we have fun, we learn more than when we have our head in books.
Spending six days in Iceland taught me more about myself, the world, relationships, independence, maturity, safety and spontaneity than any class, homework assignment or required meeting.
No, maybe I wasn’t directly helping someone else by traveling through Iceland. But I did let someone in on that trip and he helped me. And that is also beautiful. Help is a two-way street, and just as much as we should be working hard to help others, we should also be working hard to let others help us.
Being on campus this semester and leaning into having fun makes me worried about the people I pass every day. So many of them look lifeless and stressed. Is your life really worth that?
I know it is a balance. I know you are working hard to be able to have comfort later, or to do what you really want to do in life. But if you can’t find that comfort, balance or joy now, how will you find it later?
I understand how difficult it can be to find fun, and to define fun for yourself. I mean, it took me 21 years to articulate my own version of fun. I wish we talked more about how people find fun in different ways and that is okay.
I want to encourage you that even though you might be a hyper-productive go-getter who doesn’t know how to sit down, you can find fun, too. It just requires saying no to some things you mistakenly think you must say yes to.
For example, I said no to so many things this semester: a stressful future job, a leadership position, a new volunteer opportunity, some freelance writing and graphic design work, classes that sounded interesting, an opportunity to help a mentor, some recognition at graduation.
But saying no allowed me to say yes to fun, and it has allowed me to be the best, most fruitful and most helpful version of myself. When I walk by someone that feels down, I have the time to stop and be there for them. When my roommate has a bad day, I can be present with her as she explains her frustrations. When a friend asks if I want to do something spontaneous, I can say yes instead of scheduling her in two weeks later. I can read some books on my shelf, watch some funny videos, go to the movies.
In just two months of saying no to obligations and yes to personal growth, I have found infinite more joy, peace, confidence and security, and I have become a far better friend to those around me. I feel more sure of how I can make a difference in this world and I am present, genuine and committed to the few obligations I do have, instead of spread too thin and emotionally checked out.
Choosing fun and personal growth is not overindulgent. It’s setting you up to know yourself and your place in this world in a way that is far more effective and genuine.
If you’re looking for an excuse to choose fun today, then let this blog post be your excuse. Have fun. You won’t regret it.