This is a two-part blogpost series from roommates, Amy and Kristie. We’re currently both third-year undergrad students at UC Berkeley—both heavily involved with the student tech and entrepreneurship scenes on campus and beyond.
In 2018, we met as randomly assigned roommates at a tech & business summer camp for high schoolers. We’ve been roommates ever since. In the past three years, we’ve each grown and developed a lot, both individually and together. Here are our individual musings on topics that we’ve explored in depth together and want to share with our broader audiences.
Here’s to M&TSI, Berkeley, and beyond.
Part 1 — Q: What drives your decision-making, and how do you decide for yourself?
For me, “what drives your decision-making” is better framed as “how do you choose to allocate your time and energy”, which is derived from “what are you optimizing for”, which has roots in “what are your core values”.
“How do you decide for yourself” really means “how do you trust yourself to make the correct decisions”, which also begs the question “what is the ‘correct’ decision”.
TLDR, I believe the first step is to know yourself and what you value. The second step is to trust yourself, to try the actual thing, and to accept the non-linear nature of the process.
1. knowing yourself, your core values, what you are optimizing for
Self-awareness is one of those things I think is key to my happiness. It seems super obvious, but in order to make decisions that lead to finding my happiness and my purpose, I need to have a sense of my values, what makes me tick, and what makes me happy. And to figure out those values and to learn more about myself, I need:
- to first give my inner voice space to express itself. Sometimes the hustle and bustle of life drowns out my own inner voice, and I don’t have the mental space to digest and reflect. So it’s important for me to create that space for myself. i.e. spending time alone + resetting my brain (via exercise, art, hiking).
- then to spell out my thoughts — to turn my feelings into more concrete ideas. i.e. through journaling, writing, talking through my thoughts and feelings with close friends, or creating audio diaries for myself.
- What are my values?
- I know it feels super abstract and hand-wavey, but it was helpful for me to clarify and crystallize those values in a definite way. For each of the three areas of my life where I make decisions (career, relationships, and personal life with myself), I whittled down a list of 50 values (i.e. acceptance, courage, generosity, humor) into 10-15 that I resonated with most. (Where does this value show up in this part of your life?) Then whittle those down into 5, and find the commonalities between the remaining five in each area of your life. For me, one of the values I discovered that I uphold through every area of my life is fun. Despite me being an ESTJ and enjoying stability, almost all of the things that bring me joy do so because I find them fun.
- What am I optimizing for? (Totally unrelated, but great read on career optimizing: Jill Carlson: Trends and Timescales)
2. trusting yourself, doing the thing, accepting non-linear nature of process
And when it comes to doing the thing, it requires a whole lot of trust in yourself and in the process. With better understanding of myself and my values, I can trust myself that the decisions I make are the best for myself.
We’re always going to be the most important person in our own lives & we will always know ourselves best. In hindsight, this is obvious –– but at 19, only recently moved out of my parents’ home and halfway through college, I grappled with the notion that I, in fact, knew best about myself. Not my parents, not my peers, not the rich tech VC folks on Twitter.
But I also think it’s important that we can only ever make the /best/ decision at the moment, not the /correct/ decision. Who gets to decide what is ‘correct’ anyway? It’s a work in progress for sure, but I’m trying to push myself towards developing a stronger internal locus of control: not relying on social affirmation or reassurance to make a decision for myself.
I’m a full believer in the notion that the dots connect backwards. (Steve Jobs said it first though.) One of my most important learnings my first year in college was that it’s ok to make mistakes; it’s ok to try something that might not be the right thing for you — but every “wrong” experience is a learning experience that guides us closer to the best thing for us.
I’m obviously still super young and still learning all of this. But between college apps, Berkeley consulting club apps, and job apps, I used to experience a lot of anxiety around doing the Right Thing, the Correct Thing — and I believed that following the most direct, linear, and risk-averse path would lead me to the most happiness. Granted, the generally-accepted, safest thing is usually deemed the Correct Thing for a reason. It generally yields positive, predictable results.
That being said, we each learn and grow as human beings in a unique, non-linear fashion, so why pressure ourselves into believing that our life paths must be predictable and linear?
I think what’s been helpful for me to relieve some of that anxiety is to move towards whatever path resonated with me most at the moment and gave me the most energy at the moment — which, for me, often was the most fun opportunity working with the most fun people. Not necessarily the most correct or prestigious opportunity. (I didn’t join ML@B, B@B, or Voyager Consulting; instead, I volunteered to join a small nonprofit doing diversity work. I didn’t get anywhere close to a good grade in most of my college classes; instead, I spent my time exploring the outdoors and learning about crypto.)
I also believe that we are the combo of the 5 people who we interact with the most. People make or break our experiences, and we pick up a lot from the people around us. I try to choose the people I spend time around intentionally (but not always, spontaneity is gud 🤠); people who will bring balance to my life and help shape me into the person that I want to become.
So — what drives my decision-making, and how do I decide for myself?
In short, I realized that, despite my ego’s fear of being perceived as mediocre, I don’t actually want to try to “be the best of the best”. I just wanna do cool shit & experience my life & hang out with genuine, self-aware people, on my own timeline, without beating myself up over not being ‘productive’ every second. And I’m trying to trust my own intuition and my own knowledge of myself to do that.
To be honest, chasing prestige has been a major driving force for my entire life. I grew up in a fairly intense school district in Beijing and fought my way into the best elementary, middle, and high schools. It’s been six years after my high school entrance exam, and I still remember how I ranked in my district — that is how competitive I was trained to be. It didn’t change when I transferred into a U.S. high school, except that I had a new goal: getting into an Ivy League.
I ended up doing EECS at Berkeley, and here comes the “new prestige”: the best consulting clubs, top CS orgs, big-name internships, and perhaps a good GPA. I tried a lot of random things just to explore, but still ended up implicitly chasing the prestige, doing what’s “good” and what’s “right.” After I landed on a good SWE internship for the summer, I found myself asking: “what’s next?”
I am not sure.
Up till then in my life, there has always been a path that I can follow, a formula I can apply to my everyday living to direct me where to go next. But now, on the verge of adulthood, I realized that there are no more path to follow. Become a PM? Become a senior engineer? A founder? Investor? Everyone is giving me different advice, and my heart doesn’t have a calling because I don’t know what I want. I never knew what I wanted.
I wish I know what makes me happy.
When I talked about this with a friend, he asked me, “so what are some things you did recently that you wholeheartedly enjoyed?” I couldn’t answer. For too long, I’ve established my whole happiness system and reward system on rankings, prestige, and social approval that I don’t even know when “Amy” is feeling happy, versus when “Amy’s ego” is telling Amy that she should be happy. I am so used let the world and its arbitrary standards measure my progress that I forgot what it feels like to be truly happy and content with myself.
This past semester, I have reflected a lot on my motivations while making decisions. I realized that I am often motivated by the fear of “not being good enough,” so I work really hard to prove to myself and other people. I followed the prestige and thought it was the best choice at the moment because I don’t know what I want yet. Well, doing what people all think is good is probably good? It should be better than not having a direction at all?
Maybe, maybe not. Chasing the prestige has definitely gotten me to places and helped me explore, but I wish I didn’t use “following others’ advice” as an excuse to delay finding what I am passionate about. I know that I still have a lot of time, but if I were to redo college or even high school again, I would have been more conscious about my own feelings and be more intentional about discovering what makes me happy — I’d “decide for myself.” In the end, prestige may not matter, but happiness definitely does, right?