Calculated sacrifices

When calculated, it can be a fulfilling, satisfying choice that puts the center of focus in our lives on ourselves instead of on an exam performance.

Everything happens for a reason, and sometimes that isn’t always clear. As a UC Berkeley student, there have been many occasions in which I have struggled to find explanations to not-stellar grades or lack of industry internships, but with each passing day, I am slowly starting to master the art of bouncing back.

I ought to give myself credit for the little accomplishments I have made, the things you cannot include in a resume but instead keep a note of for yourself. It’s hard to explain and justify these accomplishments as legitimate at times, especially when you are expected to have a job or big break lined up after graduation. The way I see it, however, is that progress is progress and it’s about making calculated sacrifices.

A calculated sacrifice is not a sacrifice in the sense that you will inevitably find some gain. The connotation of sacrifice on its own does not guarantee any selfish gain. Reflecting back on my time at UC Berkeley, I realize that what I thought were calculated sacrifices were indeed just sacrifices.

The scale of these sacrifices may or may not be to the scale of the ones some immigrant parents might allude to when students complain or express grievances, but that isn’t the point of calculated sacrifice. The point is that you are able to find solace in knowing something good will surely come out of the decision, rather than relying on the outcomes of a series of events you cannot strictly control. If I can make peace with a decision knowing that I will come out from the other side as an improved person, then I have potentially made a calculated sacrifice.

Too many times throughout undergrad, I would justify losing sleep or skipping meals for grades and assignments. I thought these sacrifices were noble since the neglect of my health was “temporary” while my grades were not. In light of this, it was hard to explain the unsatisfactory performances that happened despite these sacrifices. I would spend days after the end of each semester toiling over my decisions, pondering where I could have made more sacrifices. I associated my performance with not being tough enough to pull more all-nighters or not being resilient enough to spend more than 12 hours in the library at a time, rather than just a few.

My lack of understanding is apparent now. I assumed I would master material outside of my comfort zone, such as random processes, without acknowledging that outcome came with too many degrees of freedom. I assumed a completely baseless feeling of satisfaction would be my prize when I couldn’t find that feeling in the moment of intense struggle.

I am fortunate to be able to make this analysis now and come to see each day as a gift rather than a barrier between now and the future. A sacrifice doesn’t have to come with pain or misery. When calculated, it can be a fulfilling, satisfying choice that puts the center of focus in our lives on ourselves instead of on an exam performance.

With that said, I cannot blame my undergrad iteration. How was I supposed to know what decisions were sure to lead me to fulfillment and good fortune? In order to answer this question, I had to be able to separate myself from all associations and relationships that weren’t between me, myself and I. I had to be capable of ridding myself of the guilt and frustration that I had convinced myself I deserved. At the time, I thought working toward my individual interest in academic research was a luxury. It was a luxury to only be able to think for myself and what I wanted instead of what had been expected from me by others.

Is this not the point of undergrad though? To find yourself. To discover your reason for waking up every morning and sleeping peacefully at night. To fortify your inner dialogue. I guess I did it wrong because, for the longest time, I could not accept my reason to be legitimate or “correct.” There simply is no correct way to do anything and no automatic path to that level of satisfaction.

For reasons unrevealed, I know why I made it more complex, and I continue to grapple with my motivation. My struggle to make amends between my past self and who I am now will continue as long as the debate over the definition of “happiness” and “success” mulls over in my mind.

One thing is for certain: Pursuing what I genuinely revel in and love during undergrad has not been a sacrifice; it has been a calculated sacrifice. No matter what the results have been. I can strengthen the impact of these calculated sacrifices, and I can simultaneously accept that many of my lackluster outcomes were fueled by just sacrifices.

The greatest sense of clarity that I can find for myself after these four years is in creating that relevant, undebatable chasm between my sacrifices and calculated sacrifices.

As an engineering major, I thoroughly enjoy tackling large-scale problems and digesting them into smaller thought experiments. It is fun to seek out a solution in a net of abstractions. Much like the systems of study, as individuals, we come with our own sets of abstractions and properties. To finally understand the underpinning of my own is one worth taking four years.

Malvika Singhal joined The Daily Californian in fall 2017 as a blogger. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering and a minor in mathematics.