UC Berkeley is a fairly prestigious university. Before it was unranked by U.S. News & World Report this year, UC Berkeley was regularly a top public university, holding the No. 1 spot on the public university rankings for 20 years. Along with these numbers, there is a plenitude of Nobel laureates and other similarly esteemed professors and students who have walked along the same halls that you and I now do. Perhaps you’re passing by the room where californium was discovered, or maybe the lab where the CRISPR gene-editing technology was first utilized to splice DNA.
Suffice to say, being a UC Berkeley student can often feel like you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. It’s a lot to live up to.
Personally, I have a rich history with Berkeley — it’s my name, and I now attend the school — so you can imagine my fears were doubled by the time I’d moved into my Unit 1 triple. This was an unexpected chance to prove myself, to prove that I was capable of things as great as those who’d come before me. It’s a feeling that’s not uncommon on this campus but was amplified for me.
On top of that, there’s a culture of biting off more than we can chew. This is a surefire way to get burnout, which then leads to conversations comparing semester unit counts and hours spent on extracurriculars rather than sleeping, as many of us upperclassmen learn the hard way. These metaphorical dick-measuring contests don’t actually enrich our academic experiences — let’s be honest. A practice that was probably born out of mutual suffering now just encourages that suffering further, creating a culture in which students feel obligated to take on more work as if their pride depends on it.
I feel no shame in admitting that I was one such student. I rushed from one thing to another, trying to do everything, spending maybe two minutes lying down on whatever flat and slightly raised surface I could find (shoutout to the benches in front of Dwinelle Hall). I preferred to run from office hours to class to a quick lunch to another class over sitting down and partaking in the things my friends call “hobbies.”
One day, as it was eventually bound to, the quick-time lifestyle caught up with me, and I had to face the repercussions of overworking myself. I had just pulled an all-nighter to finish an essay, followed by another fairly sleepless night as I studied for a test on a Friday. On said Friday, I woke up at 10:58 a.m., just in time for my 11 a.m. class. Not. I sprang out of my dorm, deciding not to change out of my pajamas or brush my hair and teeth, and barely choosing to throw my computer into my backpack before I sprinted down nine flights of stairs. To save more time, I kicked off my flip-flops, picked them up with my hand and ran across two streets to Barrows Hall barefoot. I arrived just within the nick of Berkeley time, sweaty and with my backpack still half open.
While I did make it to class in time to take the test, my grade indisputably suffered. I made it through the class with a barely passing grade and had to go through the rest of my day in my pajamas and flip-flops — not the ideal outfit when you have other classes to attend and you can’t go home until the late afternoon. Of course, it could have been worse, but it also could have been much better had I chosen to get the optimal amount of sleep. I probably would have performed better on my test, not to mention that I would have been wearing regular clothing for the rest of the day. Any day is better when you don’t have to run barefoot across Telegraph Avenue.
This should serve as a cautionary tale, as I’m certain everyone who is a student at UC Berkeley has experienced something similar. The feeling of sleeping in through an important commitment, the dread of trying desperately to make it to an appointment that barely fits in your schedule, all because you’ve stretched yourself too thin in the days prior.
Whenever I share this story with friends, I get two reactions: laughter, then reciprocation. While it feels great to relate to a shared feeling of pain, there’s always an underlying level of dread that I feel when I tell this story, as we all know that we shouldn’t be glorifying sleep deprivation or overworking ourselves. We know we shouldn’t be rewarding self-destructive habits. Rewarding these kinds of habits begins a vicious cycle in which you tell yourself that you can write that essay in one night, and then before you know it, you’ll be running to Barrows Hall in your pajamas after nearly sleeping through a test.
It took me a few years to figure out that I’m the fool of this story, myself and everyone else who’s run too fast. It’s a big thing to be at UC Berkeley, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t take our time, run a little slower, enroll in the classes that we want to take and make time to try out those “hobbies.” College is not a race for who’s got more on their plate, nor is there any pressure to immediately be as good as the giants whose shoulders you’re standing on. You’re a giant, too. It’s going to take some time to find your footing, but rest assured, once you do, you’ll be standing as tall as they are. Maybe taller.
Contact Sakura Cannestra at [email protected].