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OFF THE BEAT: Be good or good at it

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AUGUST 25, 2011

Sometimes I like making mistakes just to see if I can get myself out of them.

When I was four, it was cutting my mid-back length hair shorter and shorter until it came within three inches of being considered a pixie cut. I thought that it would quickly grow back within a couple of weeks. It didn’t.

When I was 10, it was drawing a whale on my bedroom wall with a blue permanent marker. I thought that it could easily be covered up using my white watercolors. It wasn’t.

When I was 18, it was writing four term papers in four nights — 29 pages of text for four different classes. Why I had put them off until the absolute last minute, I hadn’t the slightest clue. I guess I just thought that time would slow down for me and that my papers would write themselves. It didn’t, and they didn’t.

Now I find myself here — years older than the girl I always saw myself as being, yes — but years wiser? Sometimes, that’s debatable. The truth about life and about growing up is that you make mistakes — whether they are little blunders like getting hilariously drunk and kissing the wrong boys or big whoppers like disappointing your parents to the point of nearly losing their financial support for your university’s tuition. Last school year, I made that whopper.

At 19, I developed bad habits and pushed them to see exactly where the limits were — if there were any at all. I put my reputation, my pride, my academic record, my parents’ support and thousands of dollars on the line. I thought I was invincible. I wasn’t.

I never made a mistake I wasn’t sure I could get out of. I had little goofs, sure, but they were never irreparable. Hair grows back. Drawings on the wall can be painted over. And there isn’t an all-nighter that can’t be conquered by endless cups of Americanos. But the worst mistakes — the ones that are almost impossible to rectify — are the ones that hurt other people.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped caring. Somewhere along the way, I lost that drive. I let freshman year get the best of me. I indulged in partying and reckless boys and late nights and sleeping in and procrastinating. Most of all, I indulged myself in the delusion that I didn’t care until, eventually, I really didn’t. I abandoned my goals and convinced myself that I would take the time to “figure out who I really was,” and I would be damned if someone saw that as me being selfish.

My grades suffered, my relationship with my parents deteriorated and worst of all, I couldn’t confront either situation because I just found it so hard to care about anything. Fast forward to the end of this summer, when the truth about my misadventures became known to my parents. They were absolutely furious and threatened to take away my tuition for this year. Being an out-of-state student, I faced more than $53,000 being lost in an instant.

I would have been on a plane back to Texas with no chance of returning to UC Berkeley in the fall. But by the good graces of my parents — and I’m assuming a little divine intervention — I’m back here tentatively, on the condition that I keep up honest communication with them and work incredibly hard to repair the damage I have done.

This was a mistake that I couldn’t simply undo, and I know that I’m going to be working the rest of my undergraduate career to prove to my parents — and to myself — that I deserve to stay here. I wish I hadn’t had to go through it, but in retrospect, this experience was exactly the wake-up call I needed.

I found myself at a crucial moment, and the direction I needed to take forced me to return to being the passionate person I always was — and should always be — while at the same time pressing forward with the utmost perseverance and never looking back.

Passion — for learning, for family, for life — is real, and the mere prospect of experiencing it is proof enough of its worth. I feel as if I’ve lost the sense of how wonderful it really is. I feel as if I caved in and surrendered the thrill of the chase for perfection for the convenience of the catch of being “good enough.”

If there’s anything I’ve learned from this experience, it’s that the chase is never easy, but it is always rewarding. There is an unparalleled, inimitable feeling of accomplishment that comes with it, and who I am will always hold out for the best possible outcome. And I have my mistakes to thank for that.

Contact Patricia Cruz at 


AUGUST 25, 2011