If I had to give one piece of advice to my freshman self, I’d tell her to slow down.
I started at UC Berkeley looking to find an outlet for my ambition. I imagined the post-grad version of myself with an impressive degree or two in the bag, cords around my neck and my medical career mapped out before me.
It turns out that at UC Berkeley, students like to make everything a race. We’re always running to find a seat in lecture, running to get to work on time or running for officer positions. We’re racing to sign up for classes, racing to finish final exams, racing to finish degrees. We’re competing for spots in Main Stacks, competing for limited A’s and competing for validation from our superiors.
I tried so hard to fall in sync with my peers. Everyone seemed to have this natural growth curve, and somehow, at the end of each consecutive semester, it felt like a generation had passed. The naive freshmen I started college with were suddenly club presidents and interns at tech companies and ASUC senators — they were blooming so quickly that they surprised themselves.
But no matter how fast I was sprinting, I always felt like I was one step behind.
At my lowest points, I was overdramatic. I broke into tears in the middle of my Math 10B final when I realized my efforts only translated to meaningless formulas and blank exam pages. I panicked after a Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program rejection when I realized my passion would never make up for a lack of technical knowledge. And I fell apart on frequent phone calls to my parents when I realized they were only people I felt comfortable confiding in.
I was worried that I wasn’t focused, that I was walking down the wrong path and that I was wasting my student loans doing it. I resented myself when I realized I was still the timid, self-critical girl who had yet to grow out of her insecurities.
I was stuck on a treadmill, and I was running out of time to jump off. But instead, I tried to compensate, and I sped up. I put more faith in myself than was reasonable and tried matching the rhythm of the crowd. I took on classes I couldn’t handle, positions I wasn’t qualified for, and told myself it would be worth it for the redemption.
Needless to say, the acceleration was catastrophic. I started to be overdramatic for different reasons. I broke because I started spending more nights in Moffitt than at home. I panicked because I couldn’t follow through on commitments that were all a priority at the same time. I fell apart because I was putting my closest relationships farther and farther behind my desire for self-improvement, and I didn’t even have the emotional capacity to support them.
I was worried that I was spreading myself so thin that I would always be in a downward spiral. And I resented myself because I realized I was missing every second of my college experience and I never even paused to write a word of it on paper.
I wish I had listened when someone told me to slow down.
It hadn’t occurred to me that I was drowning out all external guidance before. But at some point after years of meltdowns, reflection and readjustment, I started to hear it.
I learned that everyone has a pace, and that maybe I just couldn’t keep up because I had a shorter stride. I could take my time to understand material, discover my passions and make mistakes. I didn’t need speed to fulfill my aspirations — as long as I maintained ambition and endurance, I could take all the time I needed.
There are infinite iterations of the path I could have taken in college, and at times, it felt better to follow my stride than to chase the idealized post-grad version of myself I cherished as a freshman.
So here I am, without an official senior thesis, a high-paying job or a competitive medical school application. And I’ve never been more content in my life.
When I graduated a semester early, I decided to take the time to experience my last few months in Berkeley as slowly as I wanted. I had time to volunteer, to take road trips, to reconnect with old friends. I had time to learn about myself and reflect on my future plans. And sometimes I even had time to sleep eight hours a night.
And so now I run with my head up and my eyes open so I don’t miss anything along the way. I stopped tuning out every “How are you?” and “I’m so proud of you” and “I love you.” I stopped neglecting the genuine concern, the words of encouragement and every little sacrifice my best friends made for me.
I slowed down for the the midnight In-N-Out runs, the sunrise Vinyasa classes, the snowy hikes in Tahoe and the discounted concerts at the Greek. I would never want to miss every bit of time I wasted with friends eating too much good food, going through collective existential crises and tagging each other in stupid memes.
I will never regret being present for the collective uncertainty, spontaneity and growth we all experienced in this place, together.
We are all going somewhere, and it might always feel like there’s a stopwatch around our wrists. We will probably still be running to make it on time to commencement, racing to capture one final picture together in our gowns and competing to get the best seat at Memorial Stadium.
But I’ll refrain from checking the time as we throw our caps in the air.
Jasmine Tatah joined The Daily Californian in fall 2015 as a blog writer before becoming a Weekender contributor in Fall 2016. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cell biology.