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An open letter to my freshman-year self

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AUGUST 14, 2017

Dear Bobby,

It’s me, you in four years.

First of all, cut this “Robert” crap out. You’re a Bobby, and you’ve always been a Bobby. Might as well embrace it.

I want to welcome you, freshman me, to UC Berkeley, just as I, graduate me, leave. I’m here to offer some advice to you, based on my reflection on the experience you will have here at UC Berkeley. Your journey here will not be particularly special, uniquely profound or spectacular. But it’s yours, nonetheless.

I recall your very last conversation with our waigong before he passed away six years ago. On the verge of his deathbed, waigong told us to go find what we love and do it to find our way forward. You might be wondering if you will live up to his wishes and find your way forward.

Where does your path go from here? Did you find your way?

No, you won’t achieve your ambition of becoming an ASUC senator or president. You had hopes to serve in student government because you saw an opportunity to significantly influence the lives of thousands of students at UC Berkeley. Instead, you’ll quit, having had little impact on the campus or the communities you’d hoped to serve.

No, you won’t get into the Haas School of Business. You’ll get far enough to secure an interview for admission, but you will eventually get rejected. You got as close as you could to achieving a goal which could have transformed your career prospects and educational experience profoundly, but you will come up short. You just weren’t good enough.

And no, you won’t have lived up to what your family and peers expected from you. You thought you would take steps to build upon the accomplishments of ancestors. Your great-grandfather used his education to uplift China from colonization and poverty by foreign powers. Your grandparents journeyed across the Pacific, leaving the comfort of their homeland and pursuing the American dream. Your parents achieved the American dream, finding success in foreign lands and allowing you and your brother to grow in the comfort of Silicon Valley. But you — born with the most privilege of any generation before you — will feel as though you wilted in the shadow of your family.

Quite frankly, a lot of what you hope for today, you will not accomplish. The person you thought you aspired to be, you will not become. The dreams you came into school with will not turn into reality. You will have little legacy to look back upon here.

You just aren’t ready for what’s coming next. You’ll give up on yourself and there are going to be countless times where you will feel — if not actually be — defeated.

It could just be my fault. Maybe I didn’t pray enough. Maybe I wasn’t lucky enough. Or maybe I just wasn’t good enough.

But just as much as this letter is about what you won’t become, it also begs the question — what did you end up finding?

Here’s what I learned — you may not find what you’re looking for today, but you will find your way nonetheless.

Remember how you’ll quit the ASUC? That will ultimately lead you to The Daily Californian, a new community where you’ve discovered new-found pride in the impact your work can have for others.

Remember how you will be rejected from Haas? It was the first push to rediscovering what you are capable of, finding passions and strengths you would not have realized or needed to rely upon.

What you learned is that finding your way means finding a way to survive. You’ll need to find the patience to wait for your moment. You’ll need to find the resilience to suffer through your failures.

Yes, you’ll survive long enough to find different projects and organizations that you will pour your soul into.

Yes, you’ll survive long enough to find causes that will make you a more curious scholar and a more compassionate citizen.

And yes, you’ll survive long enough to find more people that you will fall headfirst in love with because their company will bring you joy.

You’ll survive long enough for your suffering to become scars and to find a sense of hope and optimism for the future.

So I hope you keep surviving. Because the path from here — the path you’re taking — is less traveled. It’s one you couldn’t imagine to find yourself, and even I’m not still sure where it’s headed. But it’s definitely forward. Waigong would be proud.

I will leave you with three things I wish you had known before you stepped upon this campus:

  1. Take more pride in what you’ve already accomplished, even today. Existing as a UC Berkeley student — and surviving the challenges that have brought you here today — is already an achievement in itself that you have yet to recognize.
  2. Stop chasing the ghost of someone you believe you should be. I did that for three years before pausing to stop and think about becoming a person I wanted to be.
  3. Find others. The more time I take to reflect on my journey, the more plainly apparent it becomes my achievements are the shared accomplishments of others. You know that “when you really want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it,” so allow others to conspire in helping you to achieve your aspirations.

Speaking of others, you’ll owe a lot of thanks to people along the way, people you know now and people I’m excited for you to meet. Try to thank Terrance, Rebeka, Sanjana, Dena and Jessica. Pay back The Daily Californian because it’s given you your future. Don’t forget your family, most of all your parents. And especially thank Michael and Diana. They will save you along the way.



Contact Bobby Lee at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @bobbylee_dc.

AUGUST 14, 2017