“When I grow up, I want to be a…” has always been the one fill-in-the-blank question easiest to answer. You know, kind of like that freebie on your last midterm.
It’s just always sort of been there with me, for as long as I can remember. There was no Archimedes-esque moment, no epiphany of the sort that turned Andy Dwyer into Burt Macklin. Just an unwavering constant.
But you see, people don’t want to hear that.
People want a narrative, a story that describes your journey with a coming of age. They want to be wooed with causality, to draw a line from point A to point B and see the decisions that bring you to where you are today. Because then you’re a story of inspiration, overcoming uncertainty to find success. And I would point to the time and place if I could; I would show them, and show you, the moment that the haze lifted and the future became clear. But it doesn’t always happen that way, and it sure as hell didn’t happen that way for me.
And so there I was, filling in the same answer for five consecutive Career Days, unconvinced by the firefighters and veterinarians as well as the doctors and the police officers. My teachers would read my responses with dismay; it never made for much conversation. Maybe if I had written down “astronaut” like Jimmy, I, too, would have been labeled a dreamer.
For years, I thought nothing of it; I stored the blueprints somewhere in the back of my adolescent mind and moved forward. They were safe there, nothing really challenged their contents or made me question the person that I wanted to be – until I got to UC Berkeley.
Honestly, there’s something in the air here.
This campus has always been so deeply ingrained with the mission to be different, to challenge the status quo – to Steve Jobs the hell out of industry and research. We are taught to question assumptions and reconsider the way we see the world.
And so I did, or at least I tried.
Somewhere between the ages of five and 18, I realized that I hadn’t come up with these plans in the first place. No five-year-old chooses their own career. Clearly I had been brainwashed by my parents and scammed into pursuing something they had chosen for me. Those jerks.
And that was something that I needed to reconcile. Whether the experiences, the accomplishments and the ambition were mine all along, or actually someone else’s. Do I really want to be what I say? Or is the Kool-Aid just that convincing?
For four years at UC Berkeley I struggled with these questions. I’ve considered the appeal of starting over, seeing the future as a blank slate with chalk in hand. Friends tell me I have it good, that uncertainty is not as adventurous as it sounds, but I wouldn’t know until I tried, right? Something about the grass being greener.
I’ve talked to friends and I’ve talked to family. Now, one week from graduation, I think I’ve finally decided on an answer.
Looking back on those years – from the day I first set foot into that (very spacious) converted quad in Deutsch Hall, to my very last undergraduate lecture – every step along the way was a decision to make.
These decisions were influenced by every individual that I’ve met at UC Berkeley, and I can’t appreciate enough the impact you all have had on my life (literally everyone in the economics department: homies). At any point, I could have turned back. I could have changed majors or changed career plans, but I didn’t because my time here has only reaffirmed everything that I thought this path would be. I love education. I think it’s a really, really cool thing. And I couldn’t imagine a future where I didn’t pursue it, at least for a couple more years.
So I guess in the end, I never did find that life-changing moment that kindles inspirational speeches. People still ask, searching for a narrative fit for their wanderlust appetite, and still I leave their questions unfulfilled.
Might things change in the future? People tell me they will. But for now, I don’t see the harm in trudging along, hoping for the best, and seeing if I make it.
Well, well Jimmy. Looks like I can be a dreamer, too.
Michael Wei joined The Daily Californian as a distribution analyst in fall 2014 before becoming distribution manager in fall 2015. He is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in economics.