A Pilgrimage towards Change

Writing my final blog, I sit staring at my computer screen in reflection. In reflection on not only the surprises I’ve had over this summer, but also the unexpected journey I’ve experienced to be here today. Graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in May, this internship has been almost an extension of Berkeley to me, and for this reason, this final blog feels very much like a farewell to my academic journey and all that it has meant to me.

For this farewell, I want to speak about the crossroads so many graduating students experience. On the one hand, there is the "high school you"—with all your ambitions, interests, and goals—determined to endure the pilgrimage you set out for yourself. Everything you did or hoped for was fixated on this goal, almost to a point of blindness, where you keep waiting to arrive at the end and finally reap the rewards of your labor.

But on the other hand, there is the "new you," that was changed because of this pilgrimage. The career you set out for yourself in your adolescence is surprisingly no longer the same. The little doctor waiting to bloom perhaps bloomed into something you did not or could not imagine. You find yourself a different person than when you first arrived at college: and maybe that’s not a bad thing.

The past 4 years of my life has been a chaotic whirlwind of change. It seems as if every 3-6 months, some grand event impacts my life that I need to address and reflect on. This internship alone is an excellent example. Part of me worried that they wouldn’t find any work for me and it would be a series of mundane valueless tasks, that any possible worth it would have would be the extra bullet point I could add to my resume at the end. However, it flourished into this brilliant sociological project. I was not only researching existing sociological works, but combining and adding insight within these models. Bouncing ideas around with my boss Brian Beveridge, our conversations and diagrams about social cohesion unexpectedly became a model to fight gentrification within developing cities through social investment. Even more shocking is that the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) is publishing my work and there is a possibility that the City of Oakland and the foundations working with the city might utilize it in their multi-year plan for Oakland!

I took the most I could out of this internship opportunity, and in return it gave me the experience of one of my dream jobs in Sociology. I even gave a PowerPoint presentation on my social cohesion report to community leaders and city officials. Seeing your own model and theory outside a classroom setting, addressing an issue as important as gentrification and having an audience studying it, was certainly a powerful moment. But I also learned that sitting on a desk for 8 hours doing research and writing reports can be draining. I enjoy diversity in my work, the mobility to perform various tasks and meet new people with new ideas. Interning at WOEIP, it certainly had a good deal of this diversity, with even a visit from a documentary film crew using their new aerial drone. However, it did open my eyes that maybe my dream job of research and report writing is not exactly what I envisioned.

This is where it comes full circle.

I was fixated on this pilgrimage. Elementary school led to middle school, middle school led to high school, high school led to community college, where finally community college led to transferring to UCB where I obtained my degree. My career goal was also this pilgrimage; although it had occasionally changed over the years, it always manifested into this single job or task that eventually needed to be reached. However, I don’t feel different because of the degree, but because of the new experiences I’ve made. Likewise, I don’t feel different because I briefly had my dream job, but because of the challenging and new type of work I experienced. It isn’t about the final destination of the pilgrimage, but the unexpected journey along the way.

My favorite philosopher Alan Watts speaks to this pilgrimage conflict in terms of a musical composition. He reminds us that we don’t go to a concert to just hear the final crashing note, but we are there for the full composition: to sing and dance along with the music. I am not saying leading a life of pilgrimage is wrong, but make sure that the trek doesn’t always go according to plan, that there is experience of struggle and failure, where your ideals and interests are explored, and that this constant challenging of yourself leads to an improved and changed you: a pilgrimage towards change.

Bold change is needed for innovation; it’s not enough to finish college and to expect to stay the same. Many social problems come from this need to desperately hold on to the status quo. My previous comment of my experience of this chaotic whirlwind of change is not unique. Everyone experiences numerous obstacles I could not imagine overcoming, with their own unique transformations. Especially today, with technology and the availability of information increasing faster than ever before, change seems to come at us at an almost overwhelming rate. This outside change also has another real affect, personal self-transformations.

So what have I learned most from ending both this internship and college? It is this constant outside change and self-transformation. That maybe creating a fixed goal is not the best approach, but rather to be always critical of the status quo, to be ever transforming, and actively direct the eventual change that is coming.

Zachary Raden is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley with a degree in sociology. He is interning at the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project as a Matsui Local Government Fellow.