The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
I recently embarked on what will be a year-long exchange journey. I’m presently in Scotland at the University of St. Andrews and will study at the National University of Singapore in the winter term. Everybody I meet tells me it must be so exciting to have this opportunity – how crazy and adventurous I must be to be travelling across three continents on the tail-end of the pandemic. Yes, I’m excited, I tell them. I’m lucky of course – I worked hard to be here and it paid off. I’ve always been the type to push my comfort zone, even when it’s hard because I’ve seen it pay off in high reward time and time again. I always try to seize the moment, get myself out in the world while I’m young and when the opportunity presents itself, and follow whatever crazy dreams I may have wherever they may lead me. But, getting myself out there is not always as easy as it seems.
As I get older, leaving gets harder. I’m never afraid of what I’m missing at home – I know my life will always be waiting for me there when I get back. And it’s not that I don’t think I’ll have fun. Time and time again, I pursue things that have a much greater payoff than I could have ever imagined. Moreso, I worry about my identity. I worry about leaving myself behind. I worry that the good things I’ve built myself up to be will falter, and going home will be like needing to grow back into the remnants of a skin I already shed.
Coming to Scotland was something I had to force myself to do. I know I love to experience the world, but this time, putting that into effect took a lot out of me. I felt ready to go, but I felt that I was leaving behind my most favourite, most developed version of myself. I loved who I was this summer, I love the amazing friends I’ve accumulated since the start of university, I love my boyfriend who I had to leave behind just months after our long story of friendship turned into a love story. I loved all the parts of me that stemmed from my year of being grounded, my Covid-19 year at home.
And I have my fun in Scotland. I’ve met lots of new friends, I’ve found a balance in my long-distance relationship, I love my courses, I love the town I’m staying in. But lately, the honeymoon phase has worn off, leaving me thinking… What am I doing here? Or really, what am I doing for myself here? Every time I go away, I lose parts of myself and I find parts others. Every time I come back the same thing happens. It’s expected. I leave, the place I go changes me in some way, I come back, I adjust.
Before I left for Scotland, my boyfriend left me a letter with a poem about a tree. The message of the poem was nothing more than this: all a tree’s purpose is in life is to be a tree. And that a tree is the best it can be when it does that.
While a tree has the benefit of being an inanimate object, free of feelings and peer pressure and drama and all that goes with it, it is true that a tree remains true to itself throughout its life. Of course, it does, it has no other purpose. I’m coming to terms that I’m the same. I’m coming to terms with the fact that who I know myself to be at my core, is who I need to wake up and be for all waking seconds of each day – not giving in to pressure and not selling myself short. I already know who I am and what makes me happy. All being good at who I am takes is waking up each day and committing to pursuing those parts of myself that when activated, set my soul on fire. Knowing this does not alleviate the fears I have about going away. I still feel the same stresses and anxieties no matter what. But being true to myself at my core is the transformative attitude that gets me out in the world, keeps me doing what I love, keeps me satisfied in my everyday life. When I start to falter, it’s usually because I’ve taken on the interests of someone else or have drifted away from my interests and values. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to compromise every once in a while, but it’s never okay to compromise your character. This knowledge connects me to the foundation, the root, of my tree.
I wear a tree around my neck every day. I never had a good reason why. I’ve had it on for a few years, for the reason that it was a special gift from a special person that connects me to a past adventure. As I struggle to get my roots back in the soil, as I pave my own way in Scotland, it’s taking the meaning of reminding me to remember who I am and what I stand for, and letting those values reflect in every area of my life each day. Being here has sparked a flame, wonder, and excitement for life, that dulled down after spending so much time doing the same thing at home during the pandemic. It feels so incredible to let my soul run free again and to be in a situation where I’m content enough to be able to listen to myself and take care of me just as I need to thrive in this chapter of my life.
I guess then, the key to coping with a shifting identity – losing and finding different parts of yourself – is to not let yourself lose your core values. Feeling the spark of being alive, setting myself back into a fulfilled equilibrium has proved to take more work than just sending myself to Scotland. But, knowing change is inevitable- regardless of if I stay or go, push myself or not- makes it worth it for me to pursue the parts of myself I don’t know about yet and take the losses in stride. Finding new parts of me, falling in love with new places, is still worth the push.
Pursue the things you love at your roots, the things that make you yourself, and do whatever it takes to best reflect that in your life, in both every day and in the extravagant. Don’t force yourself to conform to any kind of good or bad pressure – listen to yourself, and simply do what you really want. Do you want to travel the world? You’re not impractical. Do you want to leave the party early? Who cares if people think you’re lame. Do you want to dance like an idiot at the bar? Everybody else secretly wants to too. You owe it to yourself – to your identity – to do anything and everything that you know to be the best, healthiest, most fun, and the most in line with your values for yourself. If your only job in life is to be you, it’s your calling to fulfill that each and every day to the best of your ability.