I’m Done with My Life: Ducks in December

Opinion by Camira Powell
Nov. 29, 2011, 12:27 a.m.

I’m Done with My Life: Ducks in DecemberCan you see it? The light at the end of the tunnel, AKA winter break, AKA the end of finals and our first chance to breathe that wonderful sigh of relief that comes with closing out one of the more hectic quarters of the year. I can, and I have never been more thankful to flip to the final month in my calendar, December.


I wanted to make a grand analogy about how we have reached the end of a long journey, which has been a long time coming. But let’s be real here, this upcoming break is just a break. More or less a rest stop on the road of life, if I want to get metaphorical with it. Scary thought, huh? Here we are, limping to the finish line, only to be told the race is not over yet. Oh no, buddy. Some of the fun hasn’t even started.


Someone once asked me what I thought about the conundrum of students being afraid to voice the stress and strain they feel, trying to take on the world without letting anyone see them sweat. To me, that was a pretty accurate description of — cue dramatic music — “The Duck Syndrome.” The Duck Syndrome (which will henceforth be affectionately called TDS) is the idea that we are all ducks, looking cool, calm and collected on the surface, but underneath our little feet are paddling like crazy to keep us afloat. No duck wants to admit to another duck how much of a struggle it is to keep their head above water, even though every other duck is in the same position. TDS is something that’s not unique to Stanford, but it’s definitely ubiquitous.


I’m pretty sure revealing your weakness to the public goes against rule #1 in “The Art of War” playbook, but saying nothing could be even more damaging. If we keep paddling, what happens when we’re too tired to go on? No one wants to see a duck’s heart give out. That’s not cute. And what does a duck’s heart failure look like? Well, it comes in a variety of forms. From a student-turned-zombie who hasn’t slept more than three hours a night in the last month falling asleep everywhere on campus, to that kid in lecture who’s been sick with something resembling whooping cough for eight out of 10 weeks but refuses to stay home and get better for fear of missing some critical information. Or breaking out in a cold sweat because you just realized that your exam, 15-minute presentation, and 20-page research paper are all due the day before the event you planned for your student group. And, of course, there’s always the classic psychotic breakdown.


But most of the time we talk about these situations, we do it with an air of nonchalance, like it’s not only inevitable, but also mandatory. Late nights, ridiculously early mornings and moments of near insanity just amount to more stories from the trenches that we’ll one day tell our grandchildren. We display these battle wounds with pride, seeing who’s gone through worse and lived to talk about it.


At a place that encourages students to do more, work smarter and be better, we become used to doing the absolute most all the time. So we often forget that it’s when we take a step back and do a little less than nothing that things finally start getting done. If you need proof, just look at your own life. Chances are you know of at least one instance when you (or a friend) aced a test you didn’t study for, or you (or a friend) bagged a breezy by saying hello. This is not to say that we should all run around not doing anything to get anywhere in life. Some effort is required. Really, it’s about knowing that in certain situations, less can be a lot more.


There’s a beauty to doing nothing. It might be hard to realize or admit that fact, but it’s something worth discovering, and the upcoming winter break is the perfect time to start exploring. Realistically, we’re all going to have TDS for life, and that’s why we’ll go off and run the world (if we want to). That doesn’t mean we can’t have moments of rest and relaxation in between, though. If a duck can leave the water to take a nap, so can we. And my calendar tells me there will be plenty of time for that this December.


Camira might be suffering from TDS, but she’s never too busy to respond to reader emails. Send her one at camirap “at” stanford “dot” edu.

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