Just A Member

The Race To A Nonexistent Top

Duke Unfiltered | Hope Arcuri | February 10, 2016

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I have realized something scary.

I am not involved in any extracurricular in which I am “just” a member. Every extracurricular of which I am involved I hold some leadership position.

I quit all the extracurriculars in which I was just a member, like GANO, a club that offers weekly tutoring for Hispanic adults. Sounds cool, right? It really was. I got to practice my Spanish and help those in our community.

But for some reason “just” being a tutor wasn’t enough. A few weeks in, I began to feel like there was no real merit in saying, “Oh, yeah, I tutor Hispanic adults” because it didn’t sound nearly as fancy as, “Oh, yeah, I am in charge of a tutoring program where Duke students tutor Hispanic adults”.

I know, the horror. I mean what a nightmare for me not to be able to make my volunteer job sound fancy. But really.

It’s like that saying: Everyone wants a cult with more members, but no one wants to be just a member.

What’s worse than the fact that I can’t just be a member is the fact that I can’t just BE in general.

I am always trying to move up, but the thing is I will never reach the top. Because the top doesn’t exist. There will always be somewhere else for me to be the leader, there will always be someone else more successful, doing more, being more. It’s a race to nowhere.

I’d like to be able to tell you that I “do Tea With Strangers” (this super cool, relatively new club where you can get tea/coffee/food with a group of Duke students whom you’ve never met!) and be proud of that without having to throw in, “I’m a HOST for Tea With Strangers.”

I’d like to be able to tell you that I “do research” instead of telling you I am “a leader for a Bass Connections team.”

I’d like to be able to tell you that I “write” instead of somehow justifying that my blog is different, that my blog is somehow better than others’, that I’m doing more, writing more, reaching more people.

But I’m afraid to be just a member.

Why am I afraid?

Because I’m just like every Duke student. I came from a high school and a hometown where I was the Big Fish in a small pond. I was talented, I was smart, I was capable. Then I got here, and the small pond became a huge ocean of giant fish. And even though I knew this, I still wanted to be the main Big Fish. The shark, if you will. I still wanted to be known, wanted to be on top.

But the problem is that the top keeps moving. Once you think you’ve reached it, you meet someone “better”. You meet someone more accomplished, someone smarter, someone more talented.

Maybe this hasn’t happened to you yet. Maybe you still think you’re the shark. Maybe you still are. But eventually, it will happen. Maybe not in college, but probably in the real world.  

You know, millennials are often chastised as people who expect to have a high-paying, well-regarded job right out of college, who don’t understand the concept of “working your way up”, who expect to be on top without much effort or skill.

Maybe we deserve that criticism. I know I do. Because even in college I’m not content being the small fish. I’m not content just being a member.  

I keep wanting to climb an achievement staircase that in reality has an infinite number of steps.

And what’s scary about this is that I look around and see so many Duke students climbing this staircase, too.

But we have to slow down. We have to stop climbing and be content where we are. We have to be content “just” being a member. Because life is about more than racing to nowhere.