I often think of life as a series of lucky breaks. Getting into UC Berkeley, being able to move across the country for school and falling in love with the place I chose seemed like an improbable string of good fortune. This notion continued when I found I would be able to graduate early in December, giving me the opportunity to spend the spring working, applying to jobs, catching up with friends, checking off the last items from my California to-do list and, secretly, postponing adulthood just a little while longer.
Now that the real world is looming on the horizon, I have yet to catch a lucky break in terms of what comes next. As the rejections continue to roll in and as I continue to reluctantly lower my standards (just pay me anything, please), I find myself reflecting in between cover letters. I realize that I oversimplify my hard work by crediting luck with what I’ve accomplished and that I ignore certain privileges that made it all possible in the first place.
So I’m trying to take a more assertive stance on the things I want to happen in my life. I need to be decisive about my future, rather than trust that things will work themselves out. The problem with that is, I don’t know what I want. All I know is that I have a lot of general life anxiety, and part of dealing with it means facing it rather than putting it off and hoping it goes away.
Suddenly, I feel like a high-school senior again, just biding my time to leave and start over somewhere new. The fact that I am anxious to leave makes me anxious.Is this indicative of a perpetual inability for me to remain satisfied in one place? When so many of my friends are planning to remain in the Bay Area for the time being — maybe even for life — what does it say about me that I can’t wait to leave? Hasn’t this “bubble” of forward-thinking, progressive thought desensitized me so that returning to places with more conservative viewpoints will feel stifling and backward? Am I even capable of navigating that kind of environment anymore?
For the record, I hate rhetorical lists, but these are just a sampling of the myriad questions swirling in my head at this point, so please bear with me. Even if the answer to all or most of these questions is “yes,” there isn’t much I can do right now to address them. In this respect, I will have to trust my own instincts and rely on my own adaptability. I won’t get very far if I can’t be open-minded, especially in regard to where I will end up.
I realize that nothing I’m experiencing right now is new. All college graduates go through this period of doubt and indecision. Even the ones who are coming out with good job offers and solid paychecks must have some doubts. Earlier in the semester, I remember telling someone I wasn’t jealous of the jobs and opportunities my friends and classmates were receiving, but I was jealous of the fact that they seemed to know what they wanted. Now, I know that’s not necessarily true. As a friend recently told me — and I am quoting her almost exactly because I think the image is very apt and very representative of her uniquely effective way of describing things — “Everyone else is running around flailing their arms in the world thinking everyone else knows what to expect except them.”
Despite my indecisiveness, there are a few things I know right now. I know I want to travel. I know I value fulfillment over salary in my future career — I also know this could change pretty quickly once the bills start piling up. I know I have a supportive family that wants me to be happy. I know I have made friends here who I am proud to know and indescribably sorry to leave. And I know that while there are plenty of other people whom I will constantly want to compare myself to in terms of success, it’s a pretty safe bet that nearly all of them are questioning themselves and their decisions just as much as I am.
So here I am, 22 years old, perhaps a little less idealistic than when I left home the first time, but probably just as naive in other respects. As I struggle to end this column without being cliche — which is very hard, and which I’ve failed to avoid thus far — I realize that UC Berkeley has given me the chance to experience and learn things I never would have imagined before coming here, and now it’s up to me to seek out the next series of opportunities and make them happen.