The college clock

Growing into Myself

Photo of Emma Solomon

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If you told any of my college friends that I had a near-perfect attendance record in high school they would probably look at you with a judging smirk and scoff, “Yeah, right.” While I did, in fact, make it to nearly 99 percent of my high school classes, I certainly wouldn’t blame them for assuming I slept through early morning choir rehearsals and cut out of classes I didn’t particularly enjoy, considering my tendencies now.

At the beginning of my freshman year here at UC Berkeley, I truly held the belief that my previous adherence to scheduling would seamlessly carry over into my college curriculum. I had purchased glossy notebooks from the student store and a new pack of ballpoint pens intended to neatly and chronologically mark the contents of the semester.

Now, whenever settled at my desk prepared to do work, I am often inclined to sneak a look at those same glossy notebooks that have effectively remained untouched throughout the past school year. I am not here to provide excuses for completely blowing off a semester worth of 8 a.m. classes. Rather, I’d like to explain how, once we cross over into the world of college life, we develop a new system of timekeeping, one that I will refer to as the college clock.

Waking up past 10 a.m. was absolutely unheard of for me before making my arrival at Berkeley. Most weekends, my body clock would gently prod me awake at around 9 a.m. to start the day. Before noon, I would tackle most homework assignments and organize logistics for the week ahead. I held my schedule with a certain sanctity — something acting as a skeleton for the perfectly organized life I was attempting to live.

I’ve struggled with minor obsessive compulsive disorder from a young age, which has always placed control at the heart of this metaphorical skeleton. Whether it was clicking light switches on and off in multiples of three or organizing the cheeses into pinwheel shapes at the grocery store, I always felt the urge to modify pieces of life’s puzzle that felt askew.

Penciling in dates to my personal planner felt necessary to stay afloat in Silicon Valley’s built-in pressure cooker. If your schedule wasn’t packed with student government meetings that closely conflicted with practice for some varsity sport, classmates viewed you as unmotivated and underachieving. Letting go was not an option, no matter how performative some tasks may have felt. I viewed myself as somewhat of a robot, mindlessly running through highlighted blocks on construction paper that dictated my life.

I moved into Unit 1 to begin my freshman year alongside my “Despicable Me” stuffed unicorn named Airpod. After organizing my dorm and bidding a tearful farewell to my parents, I sat on my bed searching for a map that would guide me through this foreign land called Berkeley. I came up with absolutely nothing.

I felt like a bird that had suddenly lost its wings or a fish that could no longer breathe underwater. There was nothing I could reel in to fit in my little box of control that kept me somewhat sane. So naturally, I let everything go.

As a result, my freshman year was somewhat akin to a shipwreck. I was in the middle of a stormy sea with fragments of my life floating away from me in every which way. I couldn’t grab one thing without letting go of the other. Whether it was an overload of club application deadlines, discussion post due dates or hangouts with potential friends, I gave up on trying to create a structured state of existence.

Before embarking on the journey of living independently, I had a structurally sound life. I had a home to return to each night, an abundance of extracurriculars and a solid friend group.

Berkeley, however, had none of that. I neglected to take these key aspects into consideration when beginning my life here. And without them, it can be daunting to reset the clock effortlessly and daily.

While I do not look back on my poor attendance and inability to initially integrate fondly, I use these shortcomings to express growth of my college self. Adjusting to a new environment only comes with time, and we must not blame ourselves for the wiggle room that ensues during this transition period. It is human nature to hold back and run from fear rather than face it. In the process of being so scared of falling flat on my face, I did just that. I realized that setting the bar astronomically high only set me up for inevitable disappointment, so I stopped. I began to let myself celebrate the smaller time changes I had made, like making it to the Golden Bear Café for breakfast before my 8 a.m. discussion period.

My emotional bandwidth initially only allowed me to wake up late in the mornings and struggle to complete short assignments late into the night. This was not because I was not capable, but rather because I found my mind consumed with cultivating a new safe space to thrive in. Once I solidified that safe space, my college clock was finally able to let me adjust to my new timezone.

Emma Solomon writes the Monday column on adjusting to the lifestyle changes in college. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.