Last week was General Commencement at UC Berkeley, which means it has been one year since I’ve graduated. Boy, the time sure passed by quickly, and my whole life is different now from what it was a year ago.
This time last year, I was packing up my apartment in Berkeley, walking onto campus for the last time, saying farewell to my friends and co-workers, and trying not to cry as I closed the chapter on my undergraduate career. Right now, I’m wearing my pajamas, sitting at my parents’ dining table, looking back at my year since Berkeley, and thinking that I haven’t done anything in the past year (reminding you again that last year, my parents’ house was the last place I wanted to be).
And it’s not like I haven’t done anything (as explained here, here and here), but I can’t help but feel, as my friend has accurately expressed to me, like I’ve been standing still or even going backward.
Post-grad life has made me feel like that quite a lot, especially when all my life I was going “foward” or onto the next thing, next opportunity, next school, next internship. Heck, right after graduation, my life seemed to be at a complete halt because I was unemployed.
But, after a year of hustling… I’m back at my parents’ house? That’s pretty anticlimatic, don’t cha think?
So, in the spirit of graduation, I decided to re-watch my General Commencement Keynote Speech by Sheryl Sandberg, and if you haven’t listened to it, you should listen to it (or read it). She gives a refreshing (and data-backed) perspective on building resilience in the face of tragedy or obstacles.
And I think it is exactly what I needed to hear right now. Actually, I think Sheryl Sandberg’s message is a timeless message for everyone. But, let me get into how her words helped me.
The crux of Sheryl Sandberg’s speech is the her story of resilience after her husband unexpectedly passed away. It was the worst day of her life, and how does someone move on from that? She makes the point that in this world, shit happens.
You will almost certainly face more and deeper adversity. There’s loss of opportunity: the job that doesn’t work out, the illness or accident that changes everything in an instant. There’s loss of dignity: the sharp sting of prejudice when it happens. There’s loss of love: the broken relationships that can’t be fixed. And sometimes there’s loss of life itself. …
The question is not if some of these things will happen to you. They will. Today I want to talk about what happens next. About the things you can do to overcome adversity, no matter what form it takes or when it hits you. The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It is the hard days— the times that challenge you to your very core—that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.
And when shit happens, there are 3 P’s – personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence – that you will need to get past in order to be process negative events, move on, and “kick the shit out of option B.”
[At the time, I had no idea that she was sharing key insights to her book – Option B – which is now on my ‘Books to Read’ list.]
In the past year, I’ve often felt like if I had done something differently or if I was better at something (like math), I wouldn’t be here. I could have worked harder on my job/fellowship applications. I could have prepared for more interviews. I could have gone to more networking events. I shouldn’t have let fear of not being competent enough stop me from putting myself out there. In the times where I personalized my struggle, the more discouraged and depressed I became. It’s hard not to feel like a failure after many rejections and missed opportunities.
So, I failed. I failed on many occasions, but failure is a part of life. It is the result of making an effort. But, it is certainly not entirely my fault that Option A (whatever Option A was) didn’t work out. And it certainly does not mean that I am a failure.
In the past year, I’ve often felt like my life was all-encompassed by a job (the abstract meaning of the word). Everything I did. Everything I thought. How I felt. It was related to a job that I needed to find. Or, a job that I had. A job that wanted but got rejected from. A job that I worked arduously at and wanted to quit, but also didn’t want to quit. The job search, working, and waiting (for security clearance to start a job) defined what my life was in the past year.
My life became about one thing, and it’s mentally exhausting. I was also physically fatigued a lot of the time because I often stayed up late to work. I haven’t been able to take a vacation, and I still don’t feel like I can. I also realized that I had stopped doing the things that I enjoyed and didn’t have a hobby.
But, my job shouldn’t be my life. Nor, do I want it to be. My ultimate goal in life is not a job, not even a dream job. It’s to have a plethora of experiences and to learn and to grow everyday.
In the past year, I’ve felt like I’ve been in limbo. Feeling stuck and without direction. Feeling inadequate and lost. Feeling like I’m not a fully capable human being. I’ve been living at my parents’ house for about 5 months now, which is longer than anyone had anticipated. How much longer will this indefinite state of being last? It feels like it’s been so long (and yet ironically, I also feel like time has flown by…).
But like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my life now is not that same as it was last year. My life will most likely be different now from what it will be next year. Things change, and I have to adapt to that change. I have to be responsible for that change. I won’t be living at my parents’ house forever, I swear it.
Time eventually makes you move on, and how I survive hardships is up to me.
Personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence – these vocabulary words have helped me psychoanalyze and reflect upon my year since Berkeley. It was definitely not a shitty year (there were some shitty moments), but it was challenging in a way that I have never experienced.
So, what can I do now?
Well, in her speech, Sheryl Sandberg says, “Finding gratitude and appreciation is key to resilience.” And there are so many things in my life that I am thankful for.
My parents, who provide love, shelter, and food. My sister, for so many things that she done for me. All my friends and coworkers, who have listened to me, encouraged me, helped me find solutions, and never stopped believing in me. So many people I’ve met along the way that have provided support and wisdom. The jobs that I’ve had for they have only given me experience. The job that I will start at USAID. Airplanes and public transportation that have taken me to where I have needed to go. Netflix, movies, and television shows. The clothes on my back. The ground beneath my feet. Water – I must not take clean water for granted. Every breath I take. Every move I make.
This list is infinite.
Does all this seem obvious to you?
It kind of does for me. Like of course, the feelings I feel now don’t last forever. These are things that I have heard before in different ways. But sometimes, when you are trying to find your way on unchartered waters, it’s a welcoming reminder. So what I can do is navigate and adjust the sails as best as I can, but keep in mind that I am still at the will of the sea. I can steer the ship and also be appreciative of the ship, the sonar, the lifejacket, the marine life, the sky, and the sun. I can remind myself that I won’t be sailing on these unpredictable waters forever; I will eventually hit land or find buried treasure or strike a deal with pirates. Ultimately, I am captain of my ship, and I want to live each day with joy and meaning, overcome my obstacles, and be grateful of my past and everything in my life.
I am reminded that outside the academic structure, which I have been a part of my life for 20 years, life is messy and nonlinear. It’s full of ups and downs, lefts and rights, hops and slides, climbs and leaps. I’m uncomfortable and uncertain, but these are indicators that I am doing something. Now that it’s been a year since Berkeley, I finally feel like I can move past the three P’s (not that they won’t pop up every now and again) and focus on what’s important to me and make the best of today.
Let’s kick the shit out of Option B.
Over and out.
PS. Did this “captain” metaphor work? Let me know. :)
PPS. This year’s Cal Commencement Keynote Speech by Maz Jobrani was also pretty good and funny. It was a message about the free speech, inclusivity, and diversity. Watch it here.