Learning to accept an uncertain future

Salas in solace

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question that has plagued me for as long as I can remember. I’ve been asked countless times by distant relatives, complete strangers — pretty much anyone who wants an excuse to seem interested in my life. And while the answer has never necessarily mattered to them, it has to me. Particularly considering the fact that my answer has  never been consistent.

Had this question been posed to 8-year-old me, the answer would have been instantaneous: “Ballerina!” It would have been pretty easy to tell by the bright pink tutu, matching pink leotard and pointed ballerina slippers that I donned constantly. But a few years of mirrors and toe pointing would prove fruitless in my road to ballet stardom.

By the time I was 10 years old, the answer would have been, “Video game developer!” A direct result of playing too many video games with my brother. And a very uninformed response, given the fact that 10-year-old me most definitely didn’t understand any of the inner workings of video games. Perhaps that’s what led to my inevitable change of mind.

Once I turned 12, the answer would have shifted again. I would have provided a very serious and again uninformed, “Biochemist!” Quite a leap for a kid, but it made perfect sense back then. How else would I be able to genetically engineer Pokemon?

This went lather, rinse, repeat for the duration of middle and high school, changing constantly in subject and oftentimes in seriousness. Though I still wouldn’t mind becoming supreme ruler of the world or a penguin trainer, I acknowledge that I should probably have goals set in the realm of reality. Berkeley has really reminded me of reality, something I never really considered until I got here.

When I entered college last year, I was undeclared. Still am technically. Not necessarily because I didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to do with my life (that crisis came a bit later) but because I knew I would change my mind.

I was not unprepared though. I was armed with a list I had compiled in high school. I had gone around for a day asking everyone I knew — teachers, friends, acquaintances, anyone — what I should be when I grow up. So last year I would look at this list every once in a while, sometimes for affirmation, sometimes for a new idea. Though the reliability of the answers is questionable (at least a few answers were “wizard”), the list was an odd comfort in what I thought was a huge personal dilemma. Which — spoiler alert — it wasn’t.

It turned out most people didn’t have their entire lives planned out. And it also turned out that a major does not necessarily dictate what you do with your life. Meeting English GSIs that began as Math majors —  even vice versa — has given me hope. Nothing is really set in stone. There is no clock counting down to a moment of truth.

And now that I know there is no moment of truth, I’ve also come to terms with this being one of those journey-not-destination type of scenarios. Because sometimes you don’t know the destination, and that’s a large part of the fun.

When I think about my education here at Berkeley, I’d like to cheesily think it goes beyond the curriculum. Yes, it’s a mixture of breadth classes and major requirements, but it’s also about the experience. It’s a time to learn what you hate, what you’re ambivalent about and, most importantly, what you love. Even if what you love turns out to be art and you’re pursuing a career in engineering.

There’s really absolutely no shame in not knowing what you want to do with your life, and there’s no shame in changing your mind about it. Sometimes all you need is one class, one professor, just a single idea, to completely alter your perspective.

It’s normal to not have a definite future in mind. Because, just as my 8-year-old self would not have agreed with my 12-year-old self, as my influences change, so do my ideas for the future. It’s just a matter of waiting for that one perfect goal, however long that may take and however many different career choices you go through before then.

Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind yet again. But at least I’ve realized that when I’m presented with the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you really don’t need to know or even need to take the question at face value. When I grow up, I would like to enjoy my job. I would like to look back and not regret making decisions about majors. I would like realize that, for me, college isn’t about following a particular path to success — it’s about finding my own path to whatever I want.