Fall semester of my senior year is drawing to a close and I sit on a fold-up wooden chair by the window of a coffee shop on College Avenue, the only college student (ironic, no?) amidst a crowd of older individuals enjoying a leisurely cup of pour-over coffee, their hands clasped around white, black-capped paper mugs. People ebb in and out, some sitting on the small red leather couch, staring around the modest space, decorated for the holidays with silver wreaths and branches of Douglas fir, glittery and green. There isn’t much indication that it’s the Saturday before finals week at UC Berkeley, that university up the street. The music is calming. Country. Classical.
Despite the presence binders bursting with graphs of short- and long-run costs and Powerpoint printouts heavy enough to break my shoulder and confusing enough to make my eyes water, I can’t help but jot down thoughts about this whirlwind of a semester. Call it procrastination – I call it clearing my mind. And since I won’t be sharing my hand-written journal entries with the public anytime soon, I present to you here some musings on the past four months.
My apologies if this is, in the words of an old friend, “too slam poetry” – perhaps it’s a function of too many thoughts and recent fascination with Dickinson, Elliot, and Neruda. At the very least, I hope it’s a welcome break from studying.
The topic that seemingly consumed the greater part of my semester: recruiting. While it may seem like every single Haas undergraduate is confident in what field of business they want to go into, that they might as well have been calculating NPV in their diapers, and will otherwise out-network students in, say, the Chemistry department, let me be the first of many to tell you this is nowhere near the truth. In my experience, the students at Haas are diverse and unique as any other, and while we may have our own little campus with a courtyard and a café up a little hill and are known to sometimes keep our books in certain backpacks emblazoned with our school logo, this doesn’t change the fact that Haas is not homogenous. Stereotypes persists and do have some truth. But who hasn’t had a competitive, loud-mouth student in one of their classes?
Still, the pressure of a job search brings out competition like nothing else. For me especially – someone who has never fully identified with any of the ABC (Accounting, Banking, Consulting) careers – it was particularly tough. Scrolling through endless postings on Callisto and putting together cover letters amidst 5 classes and a handful of extracurriculars was not my ideal senior load. For weeks – months – nothing but the job search mattered. And in that time period I’ve been more stressed than I’ve ever been in my four years at Cal, vacillating between caring and not caring, enthusiasm and disillusionment, appreciation for Haas and (dare I say it?) disdain. I began to talk reputation and networking and benefits and salary – terms I’d never thought much of before but suddenly seemed to be all I could talk about. I felt a need to fit in by finding a job that made use of my potential and would impress people. The problem was I didn’t have any idea what either of those things really meant.
Add the midterms and assignments and projects of 4 core classes, the woes of my friends and family, and a few Korean drama plot lines and you’ve got my semester in a nutshell.
In retrospect, I came near to losing my sanity and myself in the jumble. It’s a wonder that I can sit here and reflect so calmly. I can point to several reasons why; the first of which is the various friends I’ve maintained and made this semester. It’s refreshing to speak to the Haas undergrads who don’t speak often (try it, I encourage you) because often what they have to say is worth ten times more than the typical buzz-phrases bounced around Bank of America Forum. I’ve got an Anglophile of a gal pal who’s set on applying only to jobs that truly interest her and is willing to stand against the flow of recruiting to find the right fit, an older friend who’s just getting his degree for the learning experience and likely pulling on connections to work in graphic design, and another friend who’s preparing for medical school because her life’s ambition is to be a doctor. If I take a step away from Haas, there are people focusing on (gasp!) academics and writing theses for graduate school, Media Studies folks with huge grins and open minds (including a guy with an undeniable air of cool and a job offer with Apple), and friends who have no idea what they are going to do at all. Talking to younger students helps, too, as the differential in their worries and mine is so vast, I feel it ages me considerably. But it also, like the views of all these people I’ve mentioned, lends me perspective that has been and will continue to be invaluable in remaining sane at Haas, in the business world, and – I’ve realized – in life.
The second major reason I’ve been grounded this semester is this tiny class – “The Notebook” – in the College of Environmental Design. Each week I and 13 others wrote a creative piece of 1,000 words on some topic, add an image, and then trade, read, and discuss. It’s draining and nerve-wracking and weird and completely wonderful. It lends variety in the way I think and express myself; I’m not all spreadsheets and case analysis and this class has been an invaluable, consistent reminder of how much I value the facets of myself that are not defined by what I study academically or what I strive for professionally. And over the course of 14 weeks of composing stories and reading others’, I’m more convinced than ever that writing – as challenging and painful as it can be – is something that I’m not giving up anytime soon. Even if it takes a back seat to a career in finance at the moment, biding time in the pages of my leather-bound journal.
The line at the café is out the door now, and I’ve got a BART train to catch and finals to semi-study for. I’ve met with good people, good fortune. Senioritis has settled in comfortably, and I am ready for the next semester, as un-ready as I am to graduate.
Outside, I can just make out the line of my breath in the crisp fall air.