Tem qui rir pra não chora

In my finance class we learn the importance of long term investment. How sticking through something with the end goal in mind makes a person wise and successful. This post is going to be one of those long term investments. It’s gonna start off really upsetting, but I promise you it’s ending is uplifting. So, I ask you kindly for your trust. I promise the long term investment will pay off and you will leave feeling better about your day. I begin…

Some days just suck. And, no matter how hard I try to change that, they just do. It pains me to write that. It makes me feel guilty that despite me having such a strong support network from back home, having amazing relationships on campus, and having the privilege to attend such an amazing university, that I still have days that crush me. It feels like I am taking what I have for granted, only focusing on what small problem is in front of me, while forgetting all the greatness that surrounds that problem. Recently I’ve been having quite a few of these sucky days. And, while not an easy decision to share them, I think writing about them will help me put issues into clearer perspective and also help others know that they are not alone in feeling sucky.

            Some sucky days include a sense of questioning myself. They make me feel lost…

My ethics classes focus on discovering oneself, defining one’s values and acting in accordance to them. We have in depth discussions about what it means to live ethically and I always leave feeling I know a bit more about myself. A feeling that is quite short lived, especially during sucky days. When put in practical scenarios, I am questioned, I question myself. I am left looking deep into myself to find my core for a sure answer, but all I find is a hollow, malleable soul that is incredibly quick to be filled and shaped by any outside force taking the time to pour some idea into it, mashing it around before letting it simmer and impress into my being. My close support network tells me to “just be myself,” but what I feel is unclear to them is that I don’t know exactly who “myself” is just yet. And, with incredible pressure, expectations and opportunities, I don’t think I have the luxury of self-ignorance.

            Some sucky days also make me question others. They make me lose hope…

One of the programs a friend and I poured hours into planning just fell through. We tried our best to remain hopeful and maintain to our original goal, which was aspirational. I think of myself as a problem-solver. A fixer. When a problem arises, I look for a quick, efficient solution and move on. I tend to not approach issues emotionally. I instead try hard to maintain a firm, and sometimes stubborn, sense of logic. For that reason, I excel in math class getting work done, and debating. I am extremely efficient, goal-oriented and analytical. What I lack sometimes is patience and understanding for those who don’t share the same sense of solution finding. On sucky days that impatience pokes at me like an immature child that bothers the British guards standing outside of Buckingham Palace just to get some kind of reaction from them. I may be a strongly grounded in logic, but that sense of impatience is an earthquake that strengthens the more I pretend it doesn’t exist. Eventually, the ground that I stand on cracks open, and emotions flood in overwhelming me. I try to be Noah and build an ark, but it is too late. That which I was trying to protect myself from already overtook me. I suffer, and often those around me suffer too. I was never a good swimmer. But, my support network is my life vest that keeps float even during these sucky days. The worst is the guilt, the sense of conviction that I feel afterwards.

Some sucky days I can share with others. They remind me to breathe…

I am learning Portuguese at Duke. Well sort of… Currently, I am just sitting in the class, without taking it for credit. I already completed my language requirement with Spanish, but I figured there’s always time for a new academic adventure. It’s an opportunity to view the world through a different linguistic lens, and a way to keep expanding the language part of my brain. Plus, my current significant other has parents that mainly converse in Portuguese, so learning the language is my way of both connecting with them and secretly understanding all the secrets they say in front of me. I guess the latter is the more compelling reason.

Portuguese 101 meets four times a week, but my other classes conflict with Portuguese 101 class times twice a week, so I attend office hours regularly to make up for lost class time. I look forward to office hours because it allows me to practice speaking and listening intensively. It also provides an avenue to focus my mind completely on the task in front of me. It is a mindfulness exercise of some kind. It’s healthy for me, especially during a sucky day.

It was one of those sucky days. I was on my way to office hours. Walking to the basement of the Language Building, I found the professor sitting on the floor outside her locked office door. Surprised, I asked her if everything was okay. She responded that she had locked herself out of her office, her phone, car keys and office keys were left inside her purse which was on her office chair. She also explained that she was in quite a rush because she had to drive her daughter back to college post-hurricane. She expressed that on-site staff members that would typically be on call with spare keys did not come in that day because of the tornado warnings. And, she told me that she had borrowed someone else’s phone about 30 minutes ago to call Duke staff to come unlock her door and has been waiting since… After expressing all this to me, all her desperation, her struggle, her frustration, her worries, she started laughing. She laughed. And, she laughed. Not a laugh of frustration, no it was a genuine laugh. A laugh that comes with not taking oneself too seriously. A laugh that since then, I have become much more attune to. And, she invited me to sit and practice Portuguese with her while she waited for someone to come unlock the door.

Sitting on the cold, hard floor in the Language Building’s basement, we began to converse in Portuguese. First we asked about each other’s days, both of which were (pardon the pun) tornados of their own. Our plans for the day had been foiled and life had blown us in completely different directions than we expected. She then said a phrase. It was a phrase that my girlfriend had mentioned a few times in the past, but I still wasn’t quite familiar with. A phrase that at first sounded so foreign (even after translation). A phrase that I since have tried to live by. “Tem qui rir pra não chora” , she exclaimed, explaining it meant “You have to laugh not to cry.”

She was right. Perspective matters. And, taking yourself too seriously is a dangerous thing. The cold Language Building basement was transformed into a warm area of conversation, of venting, and most of all of laughter. We laughed and we laughed, as we continued to wait. Once our laughter simmered, we began talking more personally. I learned about my professor’s background, her children, her passions, her love for language. She learned about my area of study, how I view the world, and my interest in Portuguese. We spoke about difference in Brazilian and American cultures. How Americans tend to live to work, while Brazilians work to live. How having a life outside of work, and taking life lightly, readily laughing at oneself is typical of Brazilian culture, and not as typical in American culture. Our conversation simmered as we reflected on that for a bit.

The door opened, and my Portuguese-speaking significant other joined us. She began conversing with my professor, and the laughter started all over again. This time with three people. What a ridiculous situation. What an interesting way to look at life. What a fulfilling experience it was to laugh instead of cry. Eventually, someone came to unlock the office door. We parted ways. Sucky days since have been, a lot less sucky, they carry with them the lightness of laughter. I remind myself of the importance of walking lightly, remembering to greet life, and whatever it throws at me, with a smile and full of laughter. “Tem qui rir pra não chora.”


I hope you enjoyed. As always, I am interested in hearing your feedback so please email me with your thoughts at carlins101@gmail.com. Thank you for reading!

Andrew Carlins is a Master of Management Studies student at Fuqua from Oceanside, New York. His research interests involve the intersection of immigration, economic integration, and religion. During the GradEngage Fellowship, Andrew will work with the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and Beth El Synagogue in Durham to explore ethics and the pursuit of purpose during COVID-19 across three generations. Andrew has a B.S from Duke where he studied Economics, History, and Jewish Studies and graduated with honors and distinction.

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