Designing my Life

“I want to be an orthopedic surgeon.” I had become so accustomed to saying these words every time someone asked me what I thought I would want to study in college. I said them so many times that I convinced myself they were true – that I actually wanted to go to medical school and follow the set path that had been laid out in front of me. I travelled across the country to attend conferences and watch surgeries, being interested in the ideas I was learning about, but not really knowing what it meant to fall in love with a path. I believed that since I was good at biology in high school, and since I found the human body interesting, medical school was all that made sense. “School isn’t supposed to be that fun anyway,” I thought. Doctors are smart, they get paid well, and they’re looked up to: this is what I should do, regardless of how tough it might be to get through school.

I believed these same words even when I came to Berkeley. I considered myself to be an independent person, capable of understanding myself, my passions, and what I wanted out of life. At 18 years old, I knew I had it all figured out.

But still, something didn’t feel right. I went to class each day, staring intently at the board while my professor proved theorem after theorem and acted out experiments right before my eyes. Every so often I would take my eyes off the board and look around at other students, noticing their focused gazes and gasps after each experiment. I noticed how they jotted down every number in the equations, asking intuitive questions and smiling when they finally understood a theorem. I noticed their unbridled joy, yet I couldn’t bring myself to match their enthusiasm. What was wrong with me?

One night in my dorm, as I took a break from studying calculus, I headed over to my neighbor’s room across the way. I knocked on his door and entered, exhausted from my homework, and still nervous about the upcoming chemistry quiz. Upon entering, I saw a pile of paper scraps on the desk, and a green cutting board with a mutilated book on top. Confused, I moved closer, peering over his shoulder at the desecrated object. “What are you doing?” I asked. As I approached, he turned to look at me and explain. My friend, Sam, was an Architecture major, and part of their introductory course work was to carve a book into a city. “What kind of project is that?” I thought. It looked like the kind of arts and crafts project that I would take on in my own free time at home, before I became busy with piles of math problems and chemistry questions. I was confused, but what I didn’t formally realize is that a seed had just been planted that would change the course of my entire life.

For about a week after that, I found myself coming into my friend’s room to check on the book’s progress. I was interested, actually fascinated with the ideas that were going into this creation. I was taken aback by the fact that this was his homework: to be creative, to label yourself as a designer for the time being and take agency in creating a form of art. I quickly found myself looking up the architecture major online, researching what kind of classes composed this major that I had never really given a second thought. Within days, I found solace in reading about everything architecture related, and I started to prefer this research over my own homework. I had officially become hooked, and I started to imagine what kind of project I could create if my homework was to carve a book.

Within weeks, I had decided that I would take a summer Environmental Design class, just to see what kind of education Architecture could offer. It was a relatively quick introduction to such a drastically different field of study, but when I walked into the classroom that summer for the first time, I never looked back. I fell in love with everything from environmental justice through design practice to urban settlement patterns and the origin of social and cultural processes. I was introduced to the rich history of architecture across the globe, and studied architecture as a method of activism. Something clicked, and when I ended the summer class and moved into my first architecture studio in the fall, I knew that this time, I had it figured out.

That fall, and the semesters that followed, I poured my heart into my studio work. I spent many late nights hunched over my work, criticizing every inch of designed space and trying to find ways to describe the ideas I was putting on paper. Eight hours would fly by in an instant, and day would turn to night before I even looked up from my desk. I had fallen in love. Architecture, in a couple short years, taught me how to put everything into my work, and hold myself to a higher standard. It taught me how to process feedback as fuel for growth, and let go of my own fears of failing. I learned to stand behind my work and speak with confidence, both with my peers and towards authority figures. I had learned to let go of what I should do, and embrace my gut feeling. Looking back on the past 2 years, I know that Architecture taught me to love life. Design taught me how to be happy, my work taught me that sleepless nights are worth it, and Berkeley taught me to take the leap of faith that would help me follow the dreams I didn’t even know I had.

Author: Sarah Dey

Hey everyone! My name is Sarah Dey and I am currently a senior majoring in Architecture and minoring in Spanish Language and Literature! I am both a Campus Ambassador and a College of Environmental Design Ambassador, and I am the co-founder of a student-run design collective that aims to create community driven, innovative design projects that are geared towards social good and environmental responsibility. In my free time I love to ski, travel, and draw, and write about anything and everything. I was born and raised in the Bay Area, and I can tell you that there's no place I would rather be. GO BEARS <3