As a college student, I wake up every single morning and, without a second thought, find myself thinking about every assignment I have to get done and every class I have to attend. These tasks have become second nature to me. Spontaneity is considered way too risky, and consequently, life becomes one big routine.
At this point, my friends no longer need to ask where I am because they know that every day about 1 p.m., they can catch me scarfing down a meal at Café 3, and by 4 p.m., I’ll be studying my life away in Main Stacks. Although I’d much rather be lying on Memorial Glade, working on new art pieces and soaking in the sun, the thought does not even cross my mind — I am consumed by a routine and convinced that I just don’t have the time.
Students get asked the iconic icebreaker “What’s your major?” countless times. For most, that question creates an inescapable pressure to miraculously know what we want to do for the rest of our lives. For those who are undeclared or asking themselves if they are making the right choices, it starts to feel like a rush to find something — anything — that fits their many interests. What happens when analyzing art pieces from the 17th century fascinates you, but engineering a rocket ship has always been on your list of dreams? What major do you pick then?
Today, society and institutions make it difficult for students to have opposing/different interests because we face so much pressure to pick a defined path. Eventually, people tell us to pick the one that we find the most interesting, and the other options become mere hobbies that we push to the side.
For too many people, success begins and ends with the number in our bank accounts or the so-called stability that we have in our careers and personal lives. Success has become a game of statistics to define the level of respect that you will obtain in the workplace compared to your peers.
Stigmas about which careers are “successful” and which are “risky” have shut down many aspiring artists and performers because their unconventional career choices are not socially respected and are said to require more luck than skill. Traditional jobs or practical paths have not lost any of their value — let’s face it, we need doctors and engineers. But it is a misconception to think that practicality is the best and the only priority and that our hobbies and interests, such as painting or singing, should be put to rest until further notice.
The pressure of college stops people from investing time into their passions. Making schedules and five-year plans have become ingrained in how students believe they must structure their lives. As we go through life, we find ourselves drowning in stress and social expectations about what it means to succeed. Studies have shown that young people use extrinsic factors to aid them in decision-making when it comes to their careers. These extrinsic factors include social recognition, job security and financial remuneration. Because of these societal pressures and standards, we begin prioritizing this end goal of “success” by drowning ourselves in our studies and forgetting about our other personal needs, including having adequate time to unwind and take care of ourselves — who doesn’t love a good face mask once in a while?
Now, I am not going to be a hypocrite here and say that all of this pressure is forced on us by the relentless hands of society and institutions. It can stem from our own personal fears of not “making it” in this highly competitive world. As students, we may feel inclined to choose career paths that offer us financial and economic stability rather than ones that fulfill our true definitions of happiness. A study conducted by Lucía Macchia who holds a doctorate in psychology and professor Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia found that college students who prioritized time over money were happier overall and were on a trajectory toward well-being and job satisfaction.
Living in a country that has emphasized economic power for centuries, we can easily be intimidated and discouraged from chasing our passions before finding a way to fully support ourselves financially. The ultimate fear of being financially unstable has forced students to let go of their passions and instead “chase the bag.” It is this rapidly paced society and the framework of our institutions that make it so difficult for students to have their own polarized interests because they have to find a way to put a roof over their heads and dinner on the table every day.
As an artistically inclined student who happens to be a bioengineering major, I can easily say that it is a constant battle to find a balance between the opposing interests that define who I am. I ask myself at least twice a day whether I am truly doing what I want to with my life. But balance, although difficult, is in no way impossible. I dedicate time every day to study for all of my technical courses and work through four-hour labs, while also finding room to invest an adequate amount of time into producing my own art and selling stickers that I design myself to students around campus.
The beauty in finding balance within your divergent interests is that you get to redefine who you are as an individual and what it means to be successful in your own book. We as students should be reconstructing the conventionality behind what it means to be successful and use these opposing interests to strengthen the world around us. And besides, why do one thing when you can do it all?
Carly Tran is a freshman at UC Berkeley, majoring in bioengineering with a concentration in cell and tissue engineering.