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Deviating paths: Success comes in many shapes and sizes

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JUNE 29, 2016

Wait — you don’t have an internship yet? What are you even doing with your life? You just put yourself at the bottom of the college food chain. Now you can do nothing but wait to be eaten up alive by your accumulated student debt because you’re never ever going to get noticed by employers. You have so greatly messed up that you’re doomed; in fact, that’s an understatement!   

Do these frenzied thoughts sound familiar? We at the Clog know firsthand how anxiety-inducing planning for your career can be, especially when comparing yourself to other ambitious Bears.

It’s an unspoken rule that by the summer of your second year, you’re expected to get the internship that will kickstart your career. And summer of third year, you have to get a higher paid internship in the same firm. And then voila — you have guaranteed yourself a six figure job the moment you waltz off the graduation stage. The more technical your major, the better. If you’re EECS, Haas or pre-med, you’re set. But don’t worry, you still have a shot with the less acclaimed Letters & Science majors such as economics, mathematics and plain old computer science. But if you’re majoring in the liberal arts, may God help you.  

Now, the sooner you learn that this is all utter poppycock, the happier you will be.

Berkeley has so much to offer, but with this concrete formula to success, that fact gets lost. Never mind that some of the leading businessmen and politicians studied history among other social sciences as undergraduates. And Steve Jobs, the coveted deity of self-starters, didn’t even complete college. So next time you see your suit-clad friend walk to their consulting club meeting all prim to accept that internship, there is no need to feel sub-par. 

Frantically networking until you drop is in fact not the only way to go. Developing a rapport with a professor by being willing to go just a little above and beyond in a class you enjoy can work just as well. A professor’s recommendation will work wonders on your resume more than any slew of leadership or marketing positions. Usually and quite stereotypically, we think of the winners at UC Berkeley as those who hold internships at Goldman Sachs (and absolute 100 percent props to them). But what if you’re contributing to groundbreaking research or pouring your heart and soul into a creative project? Are you any less valued as a Golden Bear?         

For me the career paths of business, consulting and policy research are under my radar but I’m letting my academic interests guide me. I know I’ll do better putting my effort into a research project that interests me rather than relying on my sub-par communication skills to get me to the top. My innovation stems from the creative part of me. And my creative moments usually come in solitude when I’m writing, meditating or listening to music.

I have never had the strong leadership skills desired by first the admissions department and now by employers. I have never single-handedly generated success for a company while strutting in my pantsuit like the ideal woman of ambition society loves to tout. I’m not and have never been a Leslie Knope, although I remain inspired by and envious of her enthusiasm. If I were to take a “Parks and Recreation” personality quiz, I would instead end up as Leslie’s husband Ben. I know what my element is and I plan to stick with it. I have no doubt that I have the potential to carve as fulfilling a personal path to success for myself as my SF-shuffling, suit-clad counterparts. In all this, I’m not implying that I’m some kind of poster child for a successful UC Berkeley student — in fact, I still have a ways to go. But I know that what I’m studying and what activities I choose to pour my soul into are worthwhile and will help me reach my goals.  

All this is not to diminish or disparage those who are following the so-called concrete UC Berkeley path to success. I know plenty of Haas students who are there to make an impact and change people’s lives, and are so driven that they don’t mind and have in fact mastered the politics surrounding business and networking. And I know a lot of EECS students who genuinely love their field of study and wouldn’t trade it for anything else. When I last attended a career fair, it wasn’t the animalistic frenzy I anticipated. The employers were friendly, understanding and informative. I was able to scope out what careers were out there that interested me.         

So if you don’t get into that coveted business fraternity and just miss the mark for that internship with a big name company, stop fretting. Having free time is looked down upon in Berkeley when actually it’s one of the best things that can happen to a Bear. You could take this time to take a class slightly deviating from your major or you could volunteer for a cause you deeply care about. And, who knows? Maybe gaining a new passion will ignite your innovation and carry over as a new career path.

Contact Angelica Zocchi at [email protected].

JUNE 29, 2016