FOMO 2.0

Off the Beat

Michelle Zheng

When I was 12, I had some ambitious milestones: Publish an article before I turn 13, traditionally publish two books before I graduate high school, get into a college on the East Coast, find a career in acting or writing and afford my own loft in the city.

Yeah, I’m laughing too.

At 17, without a single article published, I found myself reading an acceptance letter to UC Berkeley at 3 a.m., apathy having replaced my preteen exuberance.

I thought that many of my family members have achieved these seemingly impossible goals that I laid out for myself. All of my family was in California, and two out of four of my cousins went to UC Berkeley — one going in as premed and the other pre-Haas. One is now a practicing doctor, and the other just left Morgan Stanley to join a startup. The other two went to UC San Diego and UCLA.

While I had a tempting offer from a university in Boston, after my dad told me that I could watch “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” twice in IMAX in one day if I went to UC Berkeley, I submitted my Statement of Intent to Register later that day. Since I didn’t achieve any of my goals, I decided there was no point anymore to choose the fresh start and family-less path of the East Coast.

When I arrived on campus, I was a virtually blank slate — I felt lost. As someone who was otherwise privileged, with good economic status and rich family roots in higher education, this lack of childhood ingenuity was somehow my death knell. As I was unable to achieve my previous goals, I lost confidence in my ability to secure a career in the creative industry.

Instead of going into creative writing and majoring in English, I instead put all of my efforts into achieving my last, amorphous goal: a lucrative career. I feared missing out to an extreme degree. After my perceived failure, I had no passion, instead plunging myself into anything that may spark zeal.

I threw myself half-heartedly into being pre-Haas, like my cousin before me. I spent my first winter break working a full-time job at a tech startup and started working for a nonprofit consulting firm my second semester freshman year. My next boss over the summer would be a presidential appointee to the National Council on Disability during the Obama presidency. I still felt desperately empty.

It seems like an absolutely ridiculous perspective to have given up on my aspirations because I didn’t achieve my lofty expectations of true success. Yet, for the longest time, I completely forfeited any of my childhood’s ambitions, simply because they hadn’t followed my expected timeline.

After my inevitable rejection from Snake Kingdom, I ended up majoring in both economics and media studies by sophomore year. I was so against taking any literature courses to fulfill the arts and literature breadth that I took a theater class instead. While I was heavily involved in the theater scene back in high school and was even made theater prefect, I never put in the same effort as actors wanting to break into the industry.

But once again, I feared losing any opportunity to plant seeds for my nebulous future. I decided to minor in theater as well, but I also wanted to graduate in four years, as it was more conducive to future job prospects. I loaded up on 20 units and continued with that path for the next four semesters.

I was incredibly indecisive, but instead of sucking it up and making one decision, I made all of them. If I flung my eggs into all the different baskets, I would somehow be successful somewhere, right?

As to be expected, they all seemed to crack instead.

A lot of people could view my path as a hilarious waste of time. Lord knows I did. But a half-remembered quote that I heard in my youth has stuck with me: “Even if you write thousands of words and you end up only liking a single sentence, it wasn’t in vain. You had to have written those ‘useless’ words before getting to that one sentence.”

While my luck has recently turned, I know that very frequently, it takes much longer for most people. I’m now working at my dream company, which has contributed more happiness and support than I thought a job ever could. And I at least crossed publishing an article off young Michelle’s list.

If you’re not passionate about anything, don’t feel like your endeavors are a waste, because all these “mistakes” and “wasted opportunities” will build a future that is intimately yours. I’m still working on my abhorrently skewed expectations, but, nowadays, I rarely think about my past’s closed doors. There’s no right path, and I’m happy to take whatever scenic route my life takes me.

The FOMO is no mo’.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.

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