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My Garmin blinks the time back to me — 7 AM. Already, last night’s rain begins steaming out of the gravel trail beneath my sneakers. It’s July. As each mile passes, I can see rays of sunlight pierce through damp trees and hear the cacophony of frogs and cicadas around me growing louder. It seems as if the insufferable heat was getting to them too.

I feel sweat starting building on my brow, and instinctively I try wiping it off with my shirt. But I remember that I’ve started running without a shirt this week.

My mind lapses backward. “Was it really necessary for me to run shirtless?” I think as a pair of bikers pass in front of me. Others on the trail, all fully clothed, probably think that I am vain. But then my eyes turn downward towards my body, disapproving of the idea that I have anything to be vain about. And before I could even perceive this evolving self-criticism, I allowed it to continue further. “Why do I even fear this disapproval of others that I don’t even know? Why am I not more secure with my choices — with myself?”

At that moment, and like many others before, I threw myself into a hole of self-interrogation. Insecurities were debating over my ulterior motives like attorneys, and I was at the stand defenseless. After arriving back at the trailhead, I buckled myself into the car and blasted the AC. I didn’t even try to unpack these thoughts from my run. I put on Terry Gross’s episode from the night before instead.

I’ve waited more than three months since that summer morning in July to return back to those thoughts. Now I’m back in school. I’ve settled down into classes and adjusted to the rhythm of campus life. From time to time, I’ll open my laptop, return to this document, and think about finishing it, but most times, I’ll just return to what’s already written, change a few words, and then exit out, already exhausted.

Moments like these remind me that little has changed over the past few months. I’ve dedicated few productive hours (a precious commodity at the moment) towards improving my self-image, but paradoxically, most of them have been spent entirely online. Over the past few weeks, the personal journal sitting on my desk has slowly converted into a Spanish notebook. The meditation app that Duke suggested for me to download has stopped sending me reminders. At this point, It’s been easier for me to find validation elsewhere, and I’ve started tallying my self-worth with Instagram likes, Tinder matches, and TikTok clout.

Now, as I spend days alone in one of Duke’s off campus quarantines, I’ve never felt a stronger pull towards this digital, externalized acceptance. Yet again, I sit down at a desk and open up this old word document in front of a trendy, exposed-brick wall. I scroll through a different list of thoughts chronicling my mental path since May. For months, I had wrongly believed that I was on a sustained climb of improvement. I try finding words to build off those written in July, and like before, find none.

There’s no satisfying conclusion to this entry. Still, I find an odd sense of reassurance from the fact that growth and sucess are incredibly unpredictable. This year has more than indicated that their opposites, misfortune and failure, are just as likely to occur.

For that, I leave this note as a reminder for myself. Next July, I may again be quarantined at home, struggling with these exact same deliberations. However, I choose to hope for otherwise (in my dreams, I fantasize about working at a legal firm or going around New England with an audio recorder). Like my summer runs, I know that I rarely arrive at my goals with the pace that I hope for. But I also find comfort from the fact that progress will inevitably come.

Durham, NC. 8/20/20

Sophomore at Duke University

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