There was a tree I spent hours sitting under freshman year. I used to sit at the base of its trunk and stare up at its branches, and through those branches to the wild blue sky above. The future seemed infinite in those moments, with my body nestled against the trunk of the tree and my life branching out before me, reaching toward the sun in uncountable directions. Life seemed so wondrous and so filled with promise.
I had a sense that by the time my four years of college were over, I would know exactly who I was as a person and where I was headed in life. My life had been fairly mapped out: Preschool to kindergarten to elementary school to middle school to high school to college. And I was sure that college was the Place Where You Find Yourself, that I’d find a new map and that on graduation day, I would know exactly how the rest of my life would pan out.
But I soon became paralyzed by the possibilities. I struggled to decide which branch of life would be mine. During my freshman year, I withdrew into myself and avoided making friends. I was overwhelmed by deciding what I should major in and didn’t know to whom to turn for help. Worst of all, UC Berkeley didn’t feel like home to me. I spent many mornings drinking coffee alone at the Den, contemplating transferring out of UC Berkeley entirely.
I realize now that much of what I was feeling were the normal scared feelings you’re supposed to feel in college when your future suddenly opens up widely before you. I’ve learned now that if you know exactly who you are and what you’re doing, you’re either exceedingly fortunate or, more likely, in denial. Part of life is struggling and stumbling. But I was too scared of falling to ever take that first step.
Eventually, I found my home at The Daily Californian in the fall of my sophomore year. I joined as a news reporter and quickly fell in love with journalism. I loved jumping over walls to follow protesters at UC Board of Regents meetings. I loved nervously and excitedly staying up for hours at occupations. I loved sprinting onto campus amid the smoke, the sirens and the cries of “You’re running the wrong way — evacuate!” on the day of the explosion. It was in those moments that I felt so purposeful and so very much alive.
The following year, I became a news editor, spending 12 or more hours a day in the office coaching reporters through their stories and helping them carefully craft their narratives before we sent the paper to bed each night. For two semesters, I worked alongside reporters and editors who were some of the most intelligent, thoughtful and passionate people I have ever met. Though it was one of the most exhausting years, it was also one of the most rewarding.
There were days I struggled, too, when everything seemed to be going wrong and it seemed like there was nothing I could do to make it better. But those were the days that taught me the most. Those were the days that taught me that failing is OK, that when you fall down, you just have to pick yourself up one more time — just one more time — and begin again.
So I got over my fear of falling. I chose my course. I chose journalism, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
There’s this overwhelming, sometimes suffocating, pressure in college — this feeling that you need to do and try everything to truly have a successful college experience. It’s the feeling that makes you want to say “yes” to every flier on Sproul Plaza for every club during your first few weeks. But ultimately, we’re not superhuman. We can’t do everything, and sometimes saying “no” is the reasonable and best thing to say.
So now, looking back at the course that my four years have taken, there are so many things I never accomplished, so many places I never went and so many people I never met. But I did what was important to me, what I loved, and it was wonderful and awful — the hardest and best thing I have ever done.
As we look back, it’s easy to think about all the branches of our life that never were. But the wonderful thing is that as this chapter of our lives comes to a close, a new one is just beginning. For every branch behind us, there are a million more spanning into the sky, reaching higher and higher than ever before.
This isn’t the end, but rather a new beginning — your beginning. You are the arbiter of your own future. You can continue on this course of life, or you can choose a new one. You can make a lot of money or have a family or save the world — or all three. You can choose to surround yourself with people who agree with you, or you can meet people who challenge you, who shake your beliefs down to the very core but also force you to argue for what you believe and why. There are no rules. There is no map. There is no one right way to do this thing.
The future is remarkable, and it branches out wildly before us, up into the blue yonder.
Megan Messerly was the fall 2014 and spring 2015 managing editor. She joined The Daily Californian in fall 2012 as a news reporter before becoming a news editor in fall 2013 and executive news editor in spring 2014. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in English and media studies.