At the age of 7, I knew exactly what my future would look like.
I had my whole life planned out in the depths of my naïve brain: where I was going to live (Sacramento), the type of car I wanted (a Toyota Camry) and, most importantly, my future career (an elementary school teacher). And while the first two have somewhat come to fruition, I have never been able to pinpoint what exactly I want to do with my life.
Growing up, I gained new interests and outgrew old passions quite quickly — there were phases where I thought I wanted to be a designer, a pediatrician, a software engineer, a fashion writer or a lawyer. Despite the constant change in options, some things remained steady. I knew that I wanted a job where I would be engrossed in the world around me and learn as much as I could while keeping me both entertained and paid (well).
As senior year of high school began and college applications loomed, I quickly realized that unlike many of my peers, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, both careerwise and majorwise. I had always been told that college would be a time of self-discovery and “finding yourself,” and realized that there wasn’t a particular field of study or career path I could see myself exploring.
Everyone around me had always told me my major should lead to a stable career, but what if I didn’t want that? What if I just wanted something that allowed me to be myself, and most importantly, be happy? I decided to apply under a major that I was interested in at the time, but was interdisciplinary enough to give me flexibility of exploring different fields and career paths over time.
Deciding to attend UC Berkeley allowed me some sort of reprieve. Since students in Letters and Science come in undeclared, I felt like I had the time to explore different majors and figure out which one fit me best. I took classes in a variety of departments, from economics to computer science to my native language of Urdu, and slowly began understanding what it was I was interested in.
I switched from major to major, thought about adding on extra minors and considered double majoring. While this three-semester-plus journey of taking different courses and exploring different majors was daunting, I’m so grateful I took the time to discover what was truly right for me. Pursuing a major for the potential job options or Berkeley prestige would never have made me truly happy, and I’m glad that I was able to take a risk on myself and learn what I sincerely enjoyed.
Meanwhile, I was exploring extracurricular activities outside of academics to build my resume and get more involved. I applied for work study jobs, joined clubs and even volunteered at a nonprofit. I’m grateful for these experiences — even if I didn’t enjoy all of them — since they allowed me to figure out what I liked. Not only did I gain new skills, I also met people who helped me see that struggling with my career path was okay, and perfectly normal, even if it didn’t always seem so at our vast school.
The lack of a clear career path never really bothered me until recruiting season for internships rolled around. I had to start making choices and roll myself into a box — what exactly was it that I wanted to do (and what did I have the experience for?). It felt nerve-wracking applying for a wide variety of roles in various positions — some I felt severely underqualified for.
However, interview after interview, I began to gravitate towards industries I was passionate about, was able to connect with people who talked me through their career paths and, most importantly, gained confidence in my experiences and realized that even landing one solid internship meant there was someone who believed in me and my ability to succeed in whatever I chose.
While I still don’t know what the future holds, I do know this: coming to UC Berkeley has exposed me to a world that I didn’t even know existed. It has opened doors and allowed me to explore fields I never thought would be possible to pursue as a career and ignited interests in me that I didn’t even know I had.
But most importantly, I’ve gained a broader perspective on life itself. I’ve been able to learn new things and realize that not everything I learn has to be related to my major or career. From art history to data science, I’ve found so many things that I love and know I can use in some way later on in life, even if it’s just on a trip to a museum or solving a statistics problem.
While 7-year-old Izza knew what she had planned for her life, at the age of 19 I still don’t know what I want to do — and I think that’s OK.