It’s hard to have no answer when people ask me what my post-grad plans are. Graduating with a degree from UC Berkeley seems to imply I have my life together. Everyone around me seems to know what they’re doing.
I don’t. I have absolutely no idea what my life will look like after graduation.
And yet, I’m not worried. I’ve realized in the past year that it’s okay to take your time and focus on the things you are currently working on. Planning for the future, while important, should not take precedence over enjoying my daily life.
As graduation draws near, I have been inundated with questions about how I will be applying my knowledge and what careers I’m looking into. When people hear I majored in mathematics, they often direct me to finance. When I tell people I also majored in cognitive science, they point me to artificial intelligence. They tell me I need some high-paying job to show for all the hard work I put into getting these degrees. They imply what I’ve been doing in college has not been enough and the things I enjoy are not going to lead to a good life.
But I think this is because the things I truly enjoy doing and excel at are tasks that often go unnoticed by others. When I originally joined the Daily Cal’s news department, it was to share the stories of people who were struggling to find a seat at the table. Now, in the night department, I change the most minor of details to ensure cohesiveness as a newspaper and help other reporters have the most impact.
I have always felt the most comfortable living my life behind the scenes, focusing on how to uplift the people in my life rather than my own future plans. And I’m good at it. But for the longest time, it felt like I had nothing to show for all my work, and the pressure to have something I could point to that everyone could easily recognize as impressive grew and grew and grew until it seemed all-consuming and everywhere and overwhelmingly omnipresent.
In life, there is so much pressure to do the most amazing things and get the most attention and be rewarded for the work you’re doing. This isn’t to say I don’t want to be recognized for the work I’m doing, but the things that often get the most attention are not the roles I want.
After three wonderful years in the news department — where I was fortunate to share some pretty amazing stories and support talented reporters as they found their own voice — it felt like the logical next step was to apply for a position in upper management.
I seriously did consider this, though I told no one because telling someone in the Daily Cal that you are considering something is essentially a formal application for the position. But halfway through writing the application, I realized I didn’t actually like the idea of managing the entire newspaper. I did not want to be doing something because it was what was expected of me if it was not something I also wanted to do.
I often wish I was comfortable in more public-facing roles, because I think I can do some pretty amazing things. But throughout college, I’ve learned I can have just as big of an impact without aiming for all the flashy titles.
And so I ended up joining the night department. Working in a department that often prompts a response of “I’m sorry, what exactly is it that you do?” and feeling more fulfilled than I did working in news was a bit of a shock.
I came into college with a plan of majoring in cognitive science and working at this newspaper. And yet, it’s the unexpected detours that followed that I learned the most from. Copy editing and struggling through my math homework have taught me the value of paying attention to the smallest details. Without the experience of specifically looking to change those little things, I don’t know that I would have realized how important it is to fully finish something.
It is often easy to overlook the details. It is way too easy to say it’s good enough and turn my attention to the next thing on my never-ending to-do list.
But the problem with always aiming for “good enough” is I’m never truly satisfied with the work I produce. My attention is instead split between my current work and all the other things I must complete. And yes, it is important to manage my time, and not everything requires my complete focus. But some things do. Some things are much more meaningful when you are fully present. And this is true outside of work too.
When I look back at my college experience, it’s the smaller activities I remember. Because these were the times I was not worried about what my next assignment was or my future plans were or how I was going to accomplish some other random thing. Instead, I was enjoying talking with my friends; making a sweater on the Glade; baking a cake with my roommate for no other reason than I wanted to eat some cake. I was enjoying my life.
I’ve been interviewed by national newspapers and presented at a global tech conference. I will be graduating from UC Berkeley with two STEM degrees and a minor. Yet, none of those things have had as much of an impact on me as looking for double spaces in a news article, getting food with a friend before class or cleaning my apartment while listening to Jack Johnson with my roommate.
I’ve finally learned that focusing on what I am interested in and enjoy doing will make me much happier than trying to fulfill external expectations that don’t align with who I am. It’s taken a year of focusing on the details to realize my life exists in these small moments. I’m no longer trying to figure out what the perfect next step is or trying to hold myself to a frankly unattainable standard.
I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, and it’s because I am finally gathering all the pieces and appreciating them for exactly what they are: my life.
Maria Young was the spring 2022 university news editor. She joined The Daily Californian’s news department in fall 2019 and the night department in summer 2022. She holds senior staff titles in both departments, and will serve as the summer 2023 night editor. Maria is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and cognitive science and a CalTeach minor.