Why I Chose to Boycott Advice During My First Semester

March 1, 2024

If you thought this was a blog providing advice on political boycotting, you would be woefully mistaken. Let me take you on a journey of failure, revelation, and self-actualization – as Maslow would have it.

I started what I thought would be my first of four years at Cal with great anticipation for future achievement, like I was inching up a black diamond knowing that momentum would release me into a good life once I have earned a sizable academic spread. But four semesters later, I have accumulated a snowball that has brought me further down than up and eventually avalanched when I failed my first class (my second if you include my ill-fated summer at community college). Or so I thought.

Okay, so that is all well and good, but a cliché if I’ve ever heard one. What precisely makes this experience so important? And why is this such a shared experience?

I came from a project-based learning K-12 with no APs or tests, and I had the highest grade-point average one could get. I now expect to graduate late, am a science major searching for an English-STEM intersection because my heart so often teeters into humanities, and spend every day debunking college fallacies that make students feel worse than each other to keep my sanity. I’d say I’m a pretty normal non-prodigy for Cal, but certainly didn’t feel like one during my first few semesters.

After the surge of oyster-seizing freedom that came from new beginnings plunged me into dozens of new situations, I found that no sense of newness could carry me away from my lack of direction and difficulty coping with growing up. For me, I had to face what I was struggling with, and surrounding myself with things I love made that easier. Over time, I noticed that the more I focused on what made me feel special, lovable, and deserving – regardless of achievement or skills – the more the world opened up to me. And the less I cared about labels, conformity, and structure, the more confident I was that it’ll all work itself out.

At Cal, I find reflections of myself in my peers all around me, and yet no one knows me like I do, especially not the unspoken epiphanies and collections of new experiences right out of high school that I held so close to my heart. As such, only a couple of pieces of wisdom from counselors, professors, students, family members, and friends have stuck with me. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but the next time someone lectures you on how to delegate your energy and time, you don’t need to feel bad for smiling and nodding while repeating “This is BS” in your head. As a natural-born people-pleaser and hater of conformity, I see you, keep up the good fight.

Following a common college tendency, Berkeley students are sometimes inclined to pack their resumes as a means of setting themselves apart. I like to think of these things more as buffers, distancing the “whom it may concern” of your cover letter from your real skills, virtue, and experience. Especially because most of the time the leadership roles in the student-run clubs of Berkeley are unnecessary and made up to allocate minute power to those resume-crazed folks (and many times, of course, to genuinely passionate leaders who will change the world).

The point is, even in a prestigious place, some people who tell you what to do are stupid when it comes to human matters. In fact, I’d argue that in some ways, people at Berkeley are stupider than most, it's just a matter of how many baskets they choose to put their eggs in. (By stupid, I don’t mean unintelligent. The single-basket people are likely to be smart cookies. But they may, in the name of a 4.0 and academic performance-based self-worth, neglect some intricacies about the human condition that births multifaceted and diversely-thinking perspectives). Beware the single-minded individual. Or don’t.

I had a chronic disconnect from my value as a person until I forced myself to touch grass every day by taking a job as a tour guide, guiding me into a positive and grateful headspace via the routine spiel about the great things about my university. Shortly thereafter, I began a writing course that focused on the follies of systematic order and the merit of benevolence and straight-up humanity. So maybe it’s forcing multiple facets of what I love into my schedule, or maybe it's returning to that hobby I dropped because of college application season. But above all, it is patience with myself, lightheartedness about things that don’t matter (grades, resume builders (buffers), and people-pleasing), and allowing myself to accept urges (within justifiable reason) that makes me feel freer and more in control of my life than I’ve ever felt.

Regardless of whether choosing to boycott advice was an age-appropriate reaction to freedom or a great philosophical epiphany, I did it and I never looked back. It turns out, as many people with seemingly-lucky, life-changing experiences know all too well, the biggest roadblocks will lead you in the right direction, it just takes an enormous deal of getting to know yourself, trusting (in yourself, the divine, a companion, the universe, or what have you), and attention to details of the moment to get there. But don’t take any advice when you come to college. Neglect all advice for the sake of self-exploration, because there isn’t anything more precious than that. People often can't perceive what we haven't experienced yet, and this is the primary issue with taking advice before you face the need for it. You will grow into yourself no matter your circumstances, and we offer advice based on our own extremely specific circumstances (like I am hired to do now). I direct you to the recent quote by Charles Swindoll: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” Path-altering things will happen at college, and they may mean more than they have to if you are not devoted to self-growth and seizing tender moments, all in the name of making yourself a human – especially in the wake of college, which will make you feel like a mere shell of one sometimes. All in all, you may find some clarity once you bloom outside of the box you had conformed to until age 18.

With that, I leave you with this plea: Please take note of how the box fits two months into college. Hint: it might feel like an itchy wool sweater too tight at the neck with sleeves that you never noticed were too long. And most importantly, take everything that happens to you in your first semester with a grain of salt.

(P.S. I am sincerely sorry for hypocritically giving you the essence of advice throughout this piece.)