Widgets Magazine


To know yourself

Sometimes we surprise ourselves. Maybe we volunteer to be called up to the stage despite having crippling stage fright, or maybe we lash out at a close friend for no reason at all. Occasionally we do things that we did not know we were capable of, and we are left wondering where we — our former selves — appeared to go. In these moments, when we contradict aspects of ourselves so fundamental to our personalities, we wonder if we’ve changed.

We spend so much more time and energy than we realize trying to get to know ourselves.

We take personality test after personality test — be it the official Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Buzzfeed’s “Build Your Ideal Breakfast and We’ll Tell You if You’re More Type A, B, or C” and the like. Some of us regard our astrological signs with an almost religious devotion to how they characterize us and sometimes even go as far as justifying our actions with “Well, I am an Aries after all.” We look at our friends and think that, maybe, the people we interact with are a reflection of ourselves. We even analyze what we’re interested in studying to see if it says something about us, as if being a “techie” or a “fuzzy” could reveal a deeper truth about our nature. After some time, we start to wonder if the labels we cling to the most should be described as observations or as projections of what we wish we were.

Left-brained. Right-brained. Introvert. Extrovert. We like labels. We like the words “I am.” After all, there is a certain comfort in saying that I am a woman, mixed-race, a freshman, a daughter, a FLI student; it is shorthand for saying “I belong.”

We identify ourselves with one-word attempts at describing entire lived experiences. Can the word “freshman” fully sum up the rush of NSO, the long awaited first day of classes, our first Full Moon on the Quad? The problem starts when identities, something meant to empower and unify, become labels — attributes that can be confining, restricting.  

When we become one with our labels, we often stay within the safety they provide. With that mindset, when put in the same room, Latinx students will gravitate towards Latinx students, Twain residents will congregate with other Twain residents. We give ourselves a group and then tend to stay with what’s comfortable. More than we might realize, we limit ourselves.

In some cases, our most defining identities are inescapable. Some of the identities we wear are visible — dark skin, light skin, defining facial features. We might wish people saw more to us than what they are able to physically see in us.

There’s a phrase that goes, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Lately, I have been inclined to believe that is true. A small example: when I participated in SPOT the week before NSO. I went into SPOT without any real hiking experience, only to embark on a six-hour hike up a mountain the first day we arrived to the base camp. An ebbing from the norm (however brief it is) can teach you about your tenacity, about your adaptability. You can go at your own pace. More importantly, you can forge your own identity, push it, pull it, stretch it any way you want. It’s up to you.


Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’ stanford.edu.