I love Caffe Strada. But yesterday, that was not the case.
I sat at the cafe and thought I was going to implode. I was looking back at the thesis I’d spent my last year working on and felt heartbroken. The thesis was shit. It had typos and was poorly written — a wasted paper produced in a week of no sleep.
“What the hell am I doing with my life?” I asked with exasperation, shaking my head at the screen.
My paralysis at Strada brought me back to the concern that seemed to tarnish my last weeks of being an undergraduate: Somewhere along these last four years, I think I got a bit lost.
Entering UC Berkeley, I was both excited and overwhelmed with all the issues to which we are introduced as undergraduates. In these last four years, I’ve come to define myself as a not-together person. Instead of chasing anything, I ended up exploring for the sake of exploration and researching for the sake of research. I spent long nights studying at Strada, not for any particular grade, not for any particular career, not for really anything.
If I could define my last four years in any way, it would be a confused endeavor to try to figure things out. It’s a word of advice we hear all the time: Go to college to learn who you are, to explore — don’t worry about the future. You do you.
But what they don’t tell you is that there is a cost to pay for such indulgent self-exploration.
On the one hand, trying to figure things out has allowed me to develop certain strengths: flexibility, the curiosity to try something different, the willingness to say, “Sure, let’s do it!” in a moment’s notice.
Yet the gift of a “sure, let’s do it” mentality has its downsides. As I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed and see all the “congratulations” for my peers’ many accomplishments, these downsides — the costs of “sure, let’s do it” — have become particularly clear. I lack consistency and the patience to continue with any single issue or question for long. I lack loyalty to my relationships, my sisterhoods, the Daily Cal and the many different social issues and career paths I dabbled in at one point or another. Despite wanting to “do good,” I’ve contributed little to nothing to my community, here in Berkeley or at home. I changed my ideas for my thesis so many times that now it is barely coherent.
I look back at my own four years and can’t help but feel a sense of regret. In these last four years, I’ve accomplished so little. At times, I’m convinced I’ve regressed in college. I’m less disciplined, less put together. My goals are nonexistent.
That’s why I sat at Strada, ready to cry.
I’m on the verge of crawling into a corner of the cafe and hiding, when suddenly, Saachi whisks me off the streets and into Kips. “You ARE going to be OK,” she says. Shortly afterward, Sarah and Kirstyn hand me gold-flaked vodka and shout, “WE LOVE YOU!” Then we’re on the Bay Bridge heading to some date party, screaming at Sinbads, “N-n-n-no, no, no, no place I’d rather be!”
I pondered my current situation when reading one of David Brooks’ columns. He talks about the “philosophy for stumblers.” He writes, “The stumbler scuffs through life, a little off balance. But the stumbler faces her imperfect nature with unvarnished honesty, with the opposite of squeamishness. Recognizing her limitations, the stumbler at least has a serious foe to overcome and transcend. The stumbler has an outstretched arm, ready to receive and offer assistance.” Most importantly: “Her friends are there for deep conversation, comfort and advice.”
That’s the detail that I liked most in Brooks’ article. I’m not the stumbler he describes, but I sure as hell am stumbling — a lot. I’m chasing something I can’t define and trying to figure out who I am — and that’s OK. It’s OK to stumble. But without friends, stumbling is quite depressing. It hurts. I know that because without my friends last night, things could have gone in a very different direction.
I just finished presenting the thesis I was crying about last night, and my friends came. Ashley brought me Cinnaholic. Kar brought a beer. Ryley listened to my spiel. Lauren, Kat, Laz and Katie asked that I present it again to the house. So I’m more convinced than ever that even if I could write 100 more pages of that paper, my biggest accomplishment at UC Berkeley will remain the same.
It’s not the diploma, it’s not the thesis, it’s not any award. It will always be somehow surrounding myself with amazing individuals, who somewhere along the way became my family.
So my advice to you as I say farewell: Endeavor for greatness; explore for the sake of exploration; ask who it is you are, not what it is you want to do; and go the road less traveled. But remember that you never have to go that road alone.
Alex Berryhill was a special issues editor in fall 2014. She joined The Daily Californian in fall 2012. She will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political economy with a minor in public policy.