I recently visited some of my high school friends at their Southern California UC campuses. Each campus felt like a portal to a new world and a different way of life. They all have their own unique features: UCLA has its golden-brown buildings and expensively-dressed student body, UC San Diego has its seamless integration of city and nature coupled with more restaurants than I knew existed (on campus!) and UC Santa Barbara has its colorful buildings and students toting swim gear from class to class. As I traversed the stone paths of these schools, I couldn’t help but imagine how different life would be at these other schools. One thought led to another, and I found myself wondering if I would be a different person if I had gone to any of these other schools. This, of course, posed the dreaded question: Would I like that different person better than who I am now?
Interestingly, this experience was not the first time that I questioned my choice of school. During my first three semesters at UC Berkeley, I was convinced that I had committed to the wrong school. Like clockwork, I would open the Common Application every month and make a transfer applicant account. I would always end up closing it without actually applying to transfer — I felt stupid for wanting to leave a school as reputable and beautiful as UC Berkeley — but the urge to leave lingered. I couldn’t quite place my finger on what exactly was making me feel this way. I liked my classes, and I was involved with a few organizations on campus; on paper, there was nothing wrong.
After a few months of agonizing over the distance I felt from campus, it hit me: Berkeley was not my dream. I had spent more than half of my time in high school fixated on a school in Southern California that I swore was my dream school. I craved warmer weather and the ability to study my interests outside of my major (which were a specialty of that school). By choosing UC Berkeley over it, I felt like I had lost a part of myself.
In my head, there existed two different versions of me: one that I dreamed of being and believed I would be at the Southern California school, and someone else. By committing to UC Berkeley, I chose the latter. I chose someone who I perceived to be as less adventurous, less committed to her dreams and less shiny. I quickly realized that it wasn’t actually UC Berkeley I disliked; it was myself for choosing UC Berkeley.
To cope, I often found myself daydreaming about what the other me would be doing instead of what I was actually doing. Braving the Berkeley winds on the way to class prompted me to imagine the other me sunbathing on some sunny beach. Arguing with my roommates led me to envision the other me living a fun, lighthearted life sans drama. This ideation, though tempting, only compounded my dislike of UC Berkeley. But here’s the thing: The other me doesn’t exist. And even if she did, I doubt her life would be the shiny, beachy spectacle I had created in my head; it would come with its own unique problems and challenges.
The other me doesn’t exist. And even if she did, I doubt her life would be the shiny, beachy spectacle I had created in my head; it would come with its own unique problems and challenges.
It was easy for me to say, “Oh, if I did X instead of Y, my life would be better.” But the truth is, it doesn’t matter. I had made my decision. By fixating so much on another school, I was just wasting my time at UC Berkeley. Campus has hundreds of things to do and learn and thousands of people to meet. I was ignoring all of these opportunities for the fiction in my head.
It took me a long time to realize that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. It took me an even longer time to realize that I am exactly where I want to be. But before I could get to that point, I had to forgive myself. I had to let go of the anger I was holding at myself for betraying my childhood dream. Doing so freed up the emotional bandwidth I needed to fall in love with UC Berkeley. And I did fall in love with it: suddenly, the Berkeley winds weren’t bothersome, they were refreshing; fights with my roommates weren’t dramatic, they were learning experiences. I’ve found family in the people I’ve met and have yet to meet. I love my classes and I’ve found ways to pursue my nonacademic interests, so I don’t feel like I’ve let go of any dreams. And while I still crave warmer weather and the beach sometimes, I know they’re just a road trip away.
I no longer see two different versions of myself. I just see the one that exists, and I’m very happy for her.
Contact Anoushka Singal at [email protected].