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Friday, May 18, 2018 

To The Graduates of 2018

Reflecting on my pre-graduation crisis

Recently, UC Berkeley bid farewell to their class of 2018, and as I sat with my friends, adoring their accomplishments with rapt eyes, enthused to bear the same glory next Spring, I was floored by a pestering and emotional swarm of thoughts. I found myself wondering, what now? Don’t get me wrong, I was reeling with excitement from all of it – sanguine faces, tassels that dangled fitfully in the wind, and a swirling revelation that as they bore arms with wet eyes, the diploma was the least of their triumph.

And yet, I felt a staid, uninspiring sense of futility. A pre-graduation crisis, if you will. In my pursuit of academic betterment and endurance of this cyclical whirl of assignments, self-exploration, and more assignments, something was missing. Perhaps I wasn’t alone in this maelstrom of misguided confusion, and as the gritty dust of emptiness kicked up in my face, I was quick to swipe it away. For many of us, the chase of worthy goals pries open a chasm of doubt, a paradoxical musing that after momentary triumph, we feel just as lost and unsure about our future.

Today, I wish to share my convictions, ones that through crippling trial and error, have titivated my dealing with such thoughts. Though presumptive, probably naïve, and dripping in literary reference, I hope my words remind you that you are not alone, and that our perspectives usually change for the better.

If the grossly fortuitous series of “successes” that comprised my 20 years have taught me anything, it is that life needs, yet suffers from, the mercurial tail of direction. That getting what you want, whether it be a diploma, partner, or signing bonus, could come short of satisfying you is unsurprising. Historical examples abound, but I assure you need not look beyond your immediate companions for proof of this exactitude. Such a dismal conception of achievement seems only aggrandized, then, by the searing irony of actually achieving your goals. Once our pursuit is over, a redoubtable emptiness inundates our psyche, spawning fruitless paranoia regarding what lies ahead.

The hurried accumulation of new goals and projects only postpones the inevitable. Fulfillment is deferred when you strive for something new, and when you succeed, it seems your triumph is already in the past. Indeed, here lies the painful rub; the sequential pursuit of higher goals is the inexplicable duality of life that emboldens us to throw our graduation caps high in the air and condemns us to misery shortly thereafter.

I apologize for the exhaustively morose scrutiny of life – I promise it gets better.

So herein lies the question of how we can stop contracting these temporal successes and ultimately own them. The short answer is that we can’t, for doing so would unravel the mystery of the human condition, and the universe is far too unforgiving. That being said, what if we committed value to timeless activities, ones that can’t be owned or crossed off a list, simply experienced. Reading, writing, parenting, listening to music, and building relationships, to name a few.

These modes of expression may not anoint you the momentary master of being that we often strive for as high-achieving individuals, but they will keep you fulfilled and rife with meaning in what always matters most – the present. As for your career, degree, and every other finite, but incredibly worthy goal, value its process of achievement more so than the slip of paper or applause that heralds its termination. Enjoy the sublimities of life that aren’t plagued by lingering and strange augury.

Appreciate who you are in the moment, and nuzzle yourself in the process of the present, not the unknown machinations of tomorrow, nor the regretful tokens of your past.

A collection of essays on technology, science, and culture. Enter your e-mail to subscribe! You'll be signed up for free, regular content. Pay for multiple essays a week.