Before coming to college, I was excited, as I’m sure many people are. I was excited to bask in the sunny California weather, to start my new classes, to meet new friends and also to discover the new me.
Though I was aware that these thoughts pinning sudden self-discovery to college were probably fueled by my tendency to binge watch coming-of-age movies, I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe the over-dramatized flicks harbored a shred of truth. After all, college afforded me the privilege and the freedom to explore countless new experiences at my own discretion. How could I, in the midst of such an novel environment, not learn more about myself?
And, in many ways, I have. I’ve found a girl who hates doing the dishes unless she has a challenging assignment and needs to procrastinate. I’ve discovered someone who arrives at the airport far, far too early but barely makes it to class on time. I’ve learned about a person who says “rip,” “dead” and “yeet” embarrassingly frequently and who will eagerly sacrifice three hours of her day for one free cup of boba. I’ve learned about myself. It’s been great. Really.
My problem in finding myself arose when I got trapped looking for the final version of myself. The notion of finding myself in college implies that at some point during my college experience, I will be found. The process will end. I will discover who I am and remain that person for the rest of my life.
For me, this implied permanence was paralyzing.
When deciding on a major, I envisioned what I would spend the rest of my life doing. Choosing a major based on what I enjoyed studying now didn’t seem sufficient. When meeting new people, I thought about the lifelong friends I was supposed to make in college. What if I chose the wrong people now? Would I be stuck with them for the rest of my life? When I didn’t speak to the teacher after my first day of class, I took it as a sign that I would spend college mentor-less, squandering my opportunities. I interpreted each of my choices as an indication of who I would be as a person in the long term.
Consequently, finding myself became restricting. Rather than allowing me to explore my options, this idea made me feel imprisoned by my choices. Moreover, it felt like I could somehow make the wrong choices and that every single decision I made had lasting consequences.
Now, I realize that these choices are verbs, not nouns. They explain what I did in a moment; they don’t define who I am for the rest of my life. For example, I didn’t speak to my teacher after class, but that does not make me a person who never speaks to the teacher.
So I’ve released the idea of finding myself in college. While I realize that many people discover new passions, life goals and interests in college, I am not going to force myself to do the same. If I happen to stumble across my mission on this planet during my time in college, awesome. If I don’t, equally awesome. I’m not going to worry about discovering the person I will be for the rest of my life. Instead, I’m focusing on who I am right now. And in truth, I will probably never stop finding myself, and I’ll never be completely found.
Contact Phoebe Quinton at pquinton ‘at’ stanford.edu.