I graduated from Colorado Christian University with my B.S. in Psychology, and I’m currently attending Antioch University for my MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I work as a peer counselor for at-risk youth and foster kids, which basically means that I get the opportunity to relate to them on their level as a consumer of mental health services and foster kid myself, while inspiring hope for a positive future in them. Pretty much the best job ever.
Growing up, we learn to define ourselves based on our social roles and interactions with other people, such as our family members, friends, teachers, and other mentors involved in our lives. We identify ourselves as a good son or daughter, a reliable friend, an enthusiastic student, and so forth–our identity interconnected with those involved in our day-to-day lives. College, however, is the first time for many young people that we start to learn about ourselves as individuals. As is the first time for anything, this experience can be overwhelming, intimidating, and prone to causing existential crises (me, my first two years of college: http://xkcd.com/220/). Good news is, this is only the beginning of a lifelong process–you don’t have to have it all figured out by Spring semester!
Where do I begin?
College life is a multi-cultural buffet of clubs, social groups, events, experiences, and hazings–some amazingly delicious that foster your dreams and goals, some leaving a bad taste in your mouth, and some that will leave you crouching over a toilet bowl for hours (and still going back for seconds). But just like a conglomeration of foods you can’t even pronounce from the Greek version of Subway, you’ll never find out whether you like something or not if you don’t give it a shot. My own personal motto is that I’ll always try something twice because the first time might’ve just been a bad experience (except when it comes to the Cinnamon Challenge–you only do that once). This is where you find out what you are interested in–no one is going to force you to join the volleyball team or make you enter the poetry slam on Thursday nights. While this gives you the freedom to pick and choose your interests, it also means you’re going to have to take initiative in pursuing those things. If you’re having trouble figuring out where to start, just take a look at the bulletin board in the student union or check those college news emails you filed under “Spam.” Maybe something will spark. If you’re not feeling it, try pushing yourself to go to the next thing you’re invited to–you’re likely to discover a hidden interest in something that you didn’t think was appealing before. Just… try not to become Yes Man. That’s a dangerous path, my friend.
I am… While figuring out what you love to do is certainly a start, I’m sorry to say that you aren’t just defined by what you do. Around my junior year in high school, I decided that poetry was my passion–I wanted to go to college to become Professor John Keating* by day and Maya Angelou by night. I was pumping out poems every day, even getting a few published now and then. I decided that, in my heart of hearts, I was a poet. And for a couple years, that was pretty much what my self-concept boiled down to. I could “rage against the dying of the light” as well as Dylan Thomas, I could go “deep into that darkness peering… wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before” just like E.A. Poe, and I could woo women with the tenacious fervor of Lord Byron’s quill (in my dreams, anyway). But when psychologists say we go through the most changes in our late teens and early-20s, they aren’t lying. By my junior year, I couldn’t bring myself to write more than one poem every three months. I wanted to write, not because I was passionate about writing, but because, dammit, I was a poet–that’s what I was supposed to do. Instead of doing something I loved, I would become miserably depressed because I wasn’t doing the thing I’d told myself I was supposed to love. And by the way…
You’ll never quite figure it out. The secret to figuring out who you are is to come to terms with the fact that Will Smith (in Hitch) was right: who you are is a very fluid concept. People are always learning, growing, changing. And that’s okay. What’s not okay is to put yourself into a box and beat yourself up for trying to venture out, or to let others put you in a box, or for you to jump into a box to try to make someone else happy/like you/want in your pants. Sometimes boxes are comfortable for a while, and one day you wake up and feel like it’s actually kinda cramped in there. You might try a new haircut, take up underwater basket weaving, or change your major seven times (which is the average, by the way), but you are still going to be you. One of my favorite lines of prose says, “Our identity is everything that’s ever happened to us… as well as our responses to it” (Ntosake Shange, for the curious). Our actions and reactions, our thoughts and feelings, our ways of understanding and relating to the world–these are what make us who we are. You can take a million personality tests, visit the campus counselor, and write in your journal every night, but while these things are helpful, they fall short of defining you. You are the only one capable of that.
Take the Myers-Briggs personality test, and then don’t take it too seriously.