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’.