Who am I?
It’s the age old question we’re forced to confront at some point in our lives, though many of us question our identities more than once as we adjust to new periods of life. At the beginning of college students begin questioning who they are and what it is they want in life. A life transition causes unsettling feelings to arise urging the individual to uncover who and what they really are. Similarly, early twenty-somethings adjusting to life post-grad may undergo the same phenomena. For many middle class Americans life has a structured path through university. Students graduate high school, they attend college, they intern, they graduate…then what? For some young adults the transition from perpetual student to “real adulthood” can lead to a new journey aiming to uncover one’s own identity. Though we will never fully “know ourselves” as we are constantly learning and evolving (that’s a good thing) there are many ways we can aid this “coming of age” process.
Uncovering your Identity
Uncovering your identity isn’t something you can check off your to-do list the same way you can “buy almond milk” or “pick up the dry cleaning”. Fortunately your soul is a bit more complicated than your trip to Whole Foods. The following tips are meant to get you thinking about who you are and what you want but are by no means the only ways to uncover who you are. I can’t tell you who you are or what you are supposed to do with your wonderful life- only you can do that!
1.Read Coming of Age Novels!
One of the best things about these identity-seeking novels is that the characters encounter many of the struggles we all go through (but are too shy/afraid/embarrassed to talk about). Simply knowing you aren’t alone in your “lost” feeling is sometimes enough to help you through it.
Check out this list of the 30 Best Coming-of-Age Novels.
2. Expose yourself to Culture Shock!
For some people culture-shock mean serving on a two week mission trip with a church group in Mexico, for others it means teaching abroad in China for a year, and for another group it means moving to another part of the country for grad school. In order to better understand the world and where your beliefs stand in it, you must experience the less familiar. Whether you’re placing yourself in a culture down the street that doesn’t understand your vegetarianism or a distant land on the other side of the world push yourself to expand your beliefs. Anytime you can become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable you are growing as a human.
Though not all of us are drawn to writing and/or blogging it isn’t a bad idea to spend some time reflecting on your life and where it is headed. Take a few minutes to journal (whether it is every day, once a week, or once a month) to record how you’re feeling as well as your goals for your personal and professional life. Look back on these writings later to see how you are evolving and working towards your goals. It’s so easy to ignore patterns in negative feelings or to assume we’ve always valued the same successes when in actuality we are growing and changing rapidly!
Check out these 5 Reasons to Make Reflection a daily habit.
4. Learn Something New!
I often find that I learn the most about myself when I am immersing myself in learning. Funny story-all through junior high I thought history was the most boring subject in the world. I detested dates and found studying wars irrelevant and dry. Sophomore year of high school I chose to forgo history all together and signed up for AP Psychology instead…when I received my schedule at orientation and found my counselor had accidentally placed me in AP European History instead of AP Psych I panicked! I was forced to stay in the class and long story short I fell in love with history that year, so in love that I majored in it when I went to college.
Not all of my learning has been quite as transparent (or influential) but I can promise I’ve never regretted taking a class, reading a book or learning a new school. I feel more productive, more fulfilled and more confident when I am learning. It’s not a bad hobby!
5. Find a “You” Project!
When you’re swamped with work, classes and responsibilities it can feel tempting to spend every free moment watching Netflix or stalking your high school peers on Facebook only to find yourself exhausted and unfulfilled. One of the best ways to gain a sense of agency is by taking ownership over your life. Most people do not find fulfillment simply working which is why we have hobbies! Though you may share your project with another person or group of people it is important that your “YOU” project is meant to to serve your needs/desires/interests. It’s cool to have friend projects, and boyfriend projects and family obligations but your “YOU” project should be about helping you learn more about yourself, grow and learn. Check out 5 ways to find Fulfillment when your Career isn’t Satisfying and/or find another “YOU” project that pushes you to grow and succeed.
6. Make a Visible list of goals!
After graduating college and realizing your dream job hasn’t dropped into your lap it’s pretty normal to feel defeated. Rather than looking at your life and feeling like a failure for what you have not achieved shift your focus toward the future. Ask yourself what you want to achieve and put it into writing. Sometimes it is helpful to set a rough timeline (ex. Get into Grad School in 2017) or (ex. Save for a Condo over the next 5 years) but other times you can’t quite timeline your goals (ex. Publish a Book). Don’t worry about rushing into your goals this very minute, right now your job is to identify your goals and live intentionally working toward achieving them. If you find a goal no longer suits you, don’t be afraid to think critically and abandon it. Just because you wanted to be a lawyer when you were in first grade doesn’t mean your twenty-two year old self should be forced to commit to that lifestyle; part of uncovering your identity is recognizing what you are not or what you have no interest in being.
7. Shun Social Media (just for a minute)!
As someone who works in marketing I really can’t authentically speak to full-on social media bans. I’ve never been the girl who deletes Facebook for a year, or who lives off the grid. I love social media, yet, I can admit it has its set backs. Sometimes we become so used to watching our friends on social media get into graduate school, get engaged via flashmob, have babies with big bows and detailed maternity stories, etc. that we forget there isn’t a timeline for our lives. Just because your friends from high school are buying houses doesn’t mean you’re behind by renting a room with your roomies from Craigslist. Just because your ex-boyfriend is going to dental school doesn’t mean you suck for struggling to find an internship and just because your older cousin has three kids, a newly remodeled kitchen and an Etsy shop doesn’t mean you’re wrong for being single, poor and averse to diapers. Take time to define your life by your own standards, by your own measures of happiness and success and then look to social media. Social media is mean to promote social interaction, it is not meant as a measure of success so let’s stop treating it as a measuring tool.
8. Analyze what makes you Happy!
Our lives are scheduled to the minute, busy with activities and obligations-during the hustle and bustle of our routines it’s easy to neglect asking ourselves one critical question: what makes me happy? There are temporary highs like roller coasters, first dates, Nordstrom shopping sprees and pumpkin spice lattes, these things are wonderful but fleeting. As much as I love blowing thousands of dollars on shoes and handbags it isn’t sustainable. The happiness of a new pair of boots is fleeting. I can’t buy new boots every day and even if I could it wouldn’t make me feel happy long term. The more important sort of happy is the happy you find from living a life that enchants and fulfills you. What enchants you and challenges you at the same time? Is it the idea of creating a successful business? Is it teaching children to read? Is it helping women escape abusive relationships? Is it learning? Is it creating? Often times a long term “happy” won’t feel happy every second, a long-term happy will sometimes feel stressful or scary or tiring. The key to a long term happy is that is should feel meaningful, it should ignite the fire within you, your long-term happy should make you feel passionate. Ask yourself what makes you passionate and do more of that.
9. Understand the sort of Person you want to Become!
One of the easiest ways to feel lost in ourselves is forgetting to focus on cultivating our character. While there are secular roles and titles I long to hold, more important are the qualities I wish to possess. I suggest listing out 10-25 words that describe who and what you want to be (see my 25 Word Exercise), often times these words are more telling than your individual goals. If you realize you value continuous learning and intelligence you may realize that your identity isn’t tied to earning your Ph.D but rather to filling a role that allows you to learn something new each day. Or you may discover just the opposite, perhaps for you it is crucial to pursue higher education because forgoing that specific goal would erode who you are. In any case, understanding the values and qualities you wish to obtain is a useful exercise.
10. Allow yourself to have a Break Down! Then get back up…
Life can be brutal even when you are fortunate enough to have a roof over your head, cuddle a cute puppy and kiss your dream guy goodnight. Though I always aim to keep life in perspective (instead of throwing a Disney Princess Fit) I sometimes break down. Disappointment plagues all of us and is especially prevalent in your early twenties as you attempt to stand on your own two feet for the first time. What do you do when the barista at Starbucks looks shockingly similar to your ex-boyfriend who is now traveling in South America with that Karlie Kloss look alike he met just after dumping you while you’re stuck babysitting toddlers and walking dogs to pay your rent in a frat-house style town home? You sit in your car and cry into your vanilla latte while listening to sad Taylor Swift songs. Is it pathetic? Yes, but I’d argue it’s necessary and so freaking therapeutic. Let yourself cry, let yourself feel sucky and for a moment just revel in your failures. When you’re finished sobbing into your sweatshirt sleeve, dry your tears, clean up your ruined mascara and pull it together. Call your Mom for a pep talk, hangout with your bestie, convince your roommates to watch a funny movie with you or better yet come up with a course of action to move forward. It’s okay to fall sometimes, but you have to get back up darlings, when you’re looking down your tiara falls (: