Something that I heard when I was entering college, which I seem to hear even more so nowadays, is that exciting, terrifying and honestly... kinda cheesy headline, "Find your true self in college!" Just in these past few months alone, with the start of the new semester on the horizon, I have seen this very kind of headline on more than one occasion. And, many discussions that I had throughout college were on this very topic — the idea of students discovering who they really are while studying at University. But, as awesome as this sounds... there is a very real chance that it might not happen.
I discovered many things about myself, more of myself. But ultimately, I still have many more questions than answers.
While it is true that I feel that I am more aware and "in-my-skin" than I ever have been before, it took a lot of time, though, energy (and not to mention, therapy) to get there. And yet, I still find myself constantly pondering and anxiously worrying over my future, sense of self and my purpose in life. I guess you could say, I year for "the meaning of it all."
I guess it was around my sophomore year at JMU... I experienced a true existential crisis, resulting in (possibly more than one) instance where I felt as though I was totally losing any small scrap of control that I had on my life. This all started with a great (and very emotional) talk with a good mentor of mine. A conversation where I discovered that I was finally "in-my-skin"... when I thought that I was already there. I also realized that the young, peppy, professional, eager and ambitious person that I had always been perceived as by everyone I had ever met... was a lie. I was a lie. My life was a lie. I-he was not real. He was fake.
This, as you might guess, led to a lot of anger and confusion. Almost like being born again... I guess that is why Babies tend to cry so much. They are scared and confused by this new life, and don't know how to tell us.
Immediately after this meeting, I remember that I was so confused and sad and angry that I just had a blank expression on my face — like a blank canvas. Not one of possibility and discovery, but one that had its paint scraped off and thrown away... a world absent of color. I was in the Forbes Center at the time. I went downstairs to my locker in the dance area, took my foam roller out of my locker and then proceeded to hurl it right at the row of lockers as hard as I could for at least ten minutes.
A few days later, I met with my mentor again. We had an even deeper talk than before. This was the start of many conversations with many mentors and friends over self, identity, existentialism, meaning, purpose... blah blah blah. All that stuff. I even had some deep, emotional (and drunken) talks with my aunt and uncle.
Through all of this talking, crying and hopeless wondering, I eventually realized a very important life lesson: I may never discover who I really am.
Now, I know what you are thinking. Something along the lines of, "Woah, that's deep," or, "Hey man, far out." Quite possibly even, "Eh... I think he needs help" (way ahead of you there, I'm in therapy! Going on almost four years now.) But here's the thing — I realized through all of this that, contrary to popular belief, this is a completely normal and common thing. Though we are often told to be happy and perfect and the little cookie-cutter robots that society wants us to be, and to be "adults," I have found that most adults... they don't have a clue either. I'm not making assumptions here, I have been told this STRAIGHT UP. This shocked me initially. It's like everything I ever knew was turned upside down.
But then, I had yet another deep conversation, this time with an even closer mentor of mine. Another person, who told me straight up, that even he still has these thoughts. And, he gave me the answer. The best, worst and most terrifying piece of advice I have ever received. A life lesson for the ages, though one that still scares the hell out of me: The key is to become comfortable in the questions.
My depressed mind's initial reactions included, "That's not good enough," "I don't know if I can live with that," and the big kicker, "Don't people kill themselves over stuff like this?" (That last one of course taps into some even deeper, darker stuff. Another story for another time.)
But, honestly... that IS the answer. In life, I believe that we human beings will find some answers. But I believe we will find even more questions. Questions that may never be answered. And you know what... I think that is OK. I think it gives us something to keep searching for. Something to keep LIVING for. A former therapist introduced me to this now-favorite quote of mine…
"Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer." — Rainer Maria Rilke
So, to those of us about to embark on their new and exciting, and maybe kinda scary journey into college. Know this, you may indeed find out your true self. Find out who you really are, and what time could be better than now!? But know this, if you don't, that is perfectly OK. You are definitely NOT the only one. And if you ever need to talk to someone about that, do so! Friends, family, or even a mental health professional. Find someone who will listen to you in a situation that will make you the most comfortable. Become comfortable living in the questions. It will take time, but your thinking will change if you actively make it so. You can do it. I know you can.
"Whatever we are, whatever we make of ourselves, is all we will ever have - and that, in its profound simplicity, is the meaning of life." — Philip Appleman
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