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She Hoped to Improve Her Career, Instead She Got a Lesson on Living

September 17, 2021
by Rina Rossi

Welcome to “Student View,” a new column featuring the thoughts, opinions, and musings of undergraduate writers at Cal. This summer, for our second “Student View” essay contest, California asked current Cal students to answer the question: What gives you optimism for the future? Below is one of two runners-up. This issue’s winning essay was “Missing the Movies” by Maya Thompson, and the other runner-up was “To Hold and Be Held” by Annie Chen. For entry rules and other winners, visit the contest landing page.

TWO OCTOBERS AGO during my senior year of high school, a family member named Leo and I drove from Santa Cruz to Merced so that I could attend a career preparatory event.

A perfectionist who was dealing with a mental health crisis, I was prone to deep anxiety, so I took solace when we reached a summit and saw the sun rise slowly on its own time, without any deadlines or standards.

I tried to emulate the sun’s serenity as I watched the sun’s colors range from variations of pink Calla Lily petals to the flames of a burning fire.

Eventually, after hours of driving, we arrived at the event. For hours, I learned about the nuts and bolts of career building. The event was packed with activities, but I can’t remember a lot from it.

I began to reflect on my own life, and think about how that contrasted with Leo’s. But, I quickly realized we had more in common than I thought.

After leaving, Leo and I arrived at a Pho restaurant, and ordered our usual noodle soups. We started talking about our first-generation family members’ experience immigrating to the United States.

Leo detailed the many troubles that he and other members of our family encountered in America: Xenophobia, financial difficulties, educational barriers, and death due to insufficient access to healthcare. Just a few weeks prior to our trip, Leo’s cousin took his own life after a long battle with mental health problems and difficulty affording access to adequate care.

I began to reflect on my own life, and think about how that contrasted with Leo’s. But, I quickly realized we had more in common than I thought.

Even though he experienced a multitude of unfortunate events along the way, Leo has achieved everything that he hoped to. And I realized I wanted the same things in my future: to earn a Master’s or PhD, become a researcher, and most importantly, to find optimism and happiness.

Despite the rocky path that Leo had to endure, he still achieved it all, and did so with a selfless attitude. In the 18 years that I had known him, he had never before been so vulnerable about his setbacks.

Before this conversation, I was in the middle of a perfectionism crisis; I felt that I was not good enough and never sat with ease thinking about the future.

While our trip was intended to strengthen my skills preparing for my career by attending a career event, I learned much more from Leo. There is no one path to success and that there is always time to accommodate for the struggles one faces in life.

In the future, when I am struggling with a research project, a presentation at work, or an application, I’ll always remember Leo, and how he emulated the sunrise when we drove to Merced.

Like the sunrise, Leo was living and succeeding on his own terms, but still ended up painting a beautiful picture that was his optimistic life and successful career—putting everyone at ease and happiness with each brush stroke.

Rina Rossi is an incoming Senior studying Political Economy and Classics, and hopes to pursue law in the future.

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