Figuring Out Who You Are Is Okay and Here's Why

One of our loftiest, and sometimes most confusing, goals as people is figuring out who we are. What I think we fail to recognize in this search is that our sense of self is constantly changing, meaning that what makes us feel comfortable, awkward, confident, etc. is completely relative. 

Coming to college was one of those changes of self for me. Prior to coming to Iowa, I was convinced that I knew exactly who I was, who I wanted to become, and how I was going to get there. However, after my first year, I realized that this new environment, and its crazy assortment of people with backgrounds and stories I had never encountered, made me question pieces of myself I thought I knew most. I saw others’ lifestyles, their ambitions, their personalities and became unsure about my own capabilities, or if I would fit in with this new “norm.”

How do we translate our own values while letting our experiences shape new ones? How do we know when to be open to change, when to let knew perspectives in? 

The answers to these questions depend on a delicate balance that is different for every person. Yes, you should pay attention to others, how they are living, and what they are getting out of it. But “paying attention” needs to be defined here. I say that because culture shock usually emerges out of excessive self-doubt from too much comparison. You need to discover what amount of introspection will be helpful to your personal growth and what amount of comparison begins to degrade and exhaust you. Once you find this balance, then you’ll be able to differentiate between people or lifestyles that merit your attention and reflection, and what is background noise. 

One of my biggest mistakes in taking on this challenge was thinking that my path to self-certainty would be linear—only progress—and if it wasn’t, that I was regressing as a person. Think of your personal setbacks - whether they be lapses in judgment, distractions, or doing something out of character - just as other avenues that you can cross out in your discovery of who you are and who you want to be. That is progress, too. Just because you feel or do something in one moment does not mean that is now who you are, so do not be afraid to expand and make mistakes. You must truly believe that you are capable and deserving of the future life you have envisioned but be open to the idea that changes to this plan may lead you somewhere even better.

A way I’ve made this process easier is surrounding myself with people who are not afraid to admit that they’re also still figuring out their path. It reminds me that I’m not alone and that I don't have to be hard on myself for not coming to immediate conclusions. We’ve been made to believe throughout life that if we study or try hard enough, some definite answer will jump out at us and we will get rewarded for finding it. Therefore, when we can’t find the same “success” in sorting out our own internal battles, we somehow think we’re in the wrong. I think our minds are much more complex than that. Remind yourself that there is no “right answer” to who you are, and with more experiences, you will most definitely get closer to becoming your most secure self.

Navigating college, an environment that is chalk full of new ways to see yourself and develop your identity, can be intimidating. Keep in mind that you should not strive to make a “correct” version of yourself, but rather to find how you will integrate old and new to stimulate the most growth. The result of this will be someone with stories, perspectives, and ideas unlike anyone else, and that is something to be proud of.

Image Credit: IMG 1, IMG 2