Saturday, 4 April 2015

the bubble always pops eventually

as an undergrad, berkeley was an explosion of happiness and excitement and freedom and learning. four years of college, which i like to think i excelled at. kick ass, take names, et cetera, et cetera. i skipped through campus as if i owned the place with my northface backpack, flip flops and cal crewneck, jamba juice strawberries wild in one hand and A paper in the other. i pored over my beloved victorians and scribbled insightful notes like "symbolism for industrialization" in the margins and forced my roommates to listen to me read dickens out loud to them for class assignments (one of us enjoyed this particular experience, two did not). i stayed up late the nights before papers were due and felt the 2am despair of writer's block and the 6am euphoria of hitting "print." i wrestled with the mysteries of black holes (literal mysteries, since i never understood the lectures) one day and the rhythms of middle english the next. along the way, i met some of the kindest, smartest, most motivated, most fearless people i have ever met in my twenty-one long years (cough) - people who were well on track to change the world in a positive way.

all of these things are great things. i understand that getting to spend four years at a top institution reading my way through the literary canon and being surrounded by thousands of extraordinarily driven people was a wonderful privilege. i appreciate the many opportunities that were thrown wide open to me because i was a student at this school. berkeley is a special place. i believe i am incredibly lucky to have passed through its gates.

but. oh, but! there is a downside to going to a top-notch school filled with so many highly motivated people. there is a downside, and the downside is this: you live for four years in what i'll call the Bubble of Insanely High Motivation, a bubble in which everything and everyone is going at warp speed. and you never recognize just how fast everyone is moving because you are in the middle of everyone and you are just going with the flow and you are moving forward and life is exciting and you are twenty-one and invincible and you and everyone else around you are going to make a difference. you are going to be a somebody.

it's only when this bubble pops that you realize you were in a bubble in the first place. for me, this was several months after i walked across that massive stage at greek theater, where the likes of zooey deschanel and jason mraz had danced around and sung a few months earlier and where ed sheeran and sara bareilles were to sing a few months later, and turned my tassel from the left to the right. in other words, several months into my current job - my first real full-time job - when i realized that what i was doing was not what i wanted to be doing for the rest of my life (shocker!) and the job i was getting good at was not necessarily the job i wanted to get good at.

then i realized that the anxiety that i had been trying to outrun for the past couple of years and thought i had successfully left behind in the dust had actually caught up to me. had blown past me and waited around the next corner for me to run smack into it. that anxiety that i have to remind myself that every twenty-something experiences of not knowing what i wanted to do with my life.

when you go to a school like berkeley for four years, a school with a ridiculously high concentration of budding entrepreneurs, engineering geniuses, future policy makers, and brilliant writers, you can't help but feel constant pressure. everyone around you, it seems, knows exactly what they want to do and how they are going to get there. everyone has a game plan, a perfectly concocted exit strategy that will take them from A to B to C to D and so on until they reach Z, which is a nobel prize, or a seat in congress, or a network of successful orphanages in africa, depending on who you talk to.

now that the bubble has popped i am beginning to realize that i whizzed along at warp speed in college but never figured out my own exit strategy, the what-next of life after graduation. or rather, the exit strategy i came up with may not be the right exit strategy after all. i am learning in my first job that there are some things i like about public relations and some things i don't like, and i am realizing that maybe this initial, perfectly crafted and polished plan of pursuing a meteoric career in public relations may not actually be what i want.

this scares me a decent amount. mostly because it means i have to backtrack a bit. backtracking is not something i enjoy doing. backtracking means saying, "just kidding, i thought i was going in the right direction but it looks like i made a wrong turn. sorry everyone, let's turn around and hike back those five miles to the fork. also, i drank what was left of our collective water supply. please don't hate me." backtracking means reverse progress. backtracking means slowing down. and it's hard to slow down and turn around when it seems like everyone you know is moving forward.

but here is what else i am learning out of college: i am much younger than i think i am. life is not a race and there is no hurry to move forward and move up. who ever said life was a race? no one? okay, so maybe i made that one up and tricked myself into believing it was true. but life is so much larger than this tiny sliver that i can comprehend of it at twenty-one. not everyone has a game plan. it is, indeed, okay to slow down and turn around.

if my application to get a work visa to stay at my current agency isn't granted, i will head to boston this fall to get a master's in public relations at boston university's college of communication - my backup plan. i don't think i want to pursue a lifelong career in comms... that is strange to think about. (i applied to schools back before i was thinking about all of these things. now here i am. life is weird.) but if i do go to boston, i know i will get to live in a new and beautiful city for a year, have the chance to work and study in los angeles for a semester, meet new people, and take several more steps toward figuring out what i enjoy doing and what i don't. and that sounds pretty great to me.

the more i think about it, the more i realize how lucky i am to be able to worry about what i want to do. so many others don't have that luxury. so many others have their futures carved out for them by poverty or injustice or oppression or pressure from their families. how fortunate i am that i can worry about these things. how silly of me that i actually do. how truly, truly first-world my problems are.

i think i'm giving up making game plans for a while. it just takes too much energy -- energy i'd rather spend doing fun things or burning calories from all the ramen i eat. because there are, of course, some things that haven't changed much at all since college.