“College is the time to find yourself.” It’s a phrase we have all heard time and time again, whether it be from movies or from the people around us. We are told all through high school that college was a magical time in our lives in which we would find out who we really were. And yet as my time as a college student draws to a close, I am no closer to knowing who I am than I was four years ago. What does finding yourself even mean? How do we know who we truly are?

We live in a society dependent on labels. Whenever we encounter a new person, we immediately give them a list of stereotypes in order to classify them. Often we think of these in binaries, assigning this stranger one extreme or another. Are they nerdy or sporty? Artsy or logical? Sexy or smart? Shy or outgoing? We use these labels to evaluate how we should steer the conversation. I recently participated in an experiment in class where we went up to strangers and recorded the questions we asked ourselves during our first interaction. It was shocking to find out how many labels I assigned to each new person, without any validity following them. Over and over again I asked myself what version of myself I could present in order for them to like me. I made assumptions about who they were and then shifted myself to fit what I assumed they liked. And at the end of the experiment, it was found that almost everyone else did the same thing. We are dependent on these labels for others to build relationships, but how can we build relationships with people we boil down to one or two stereotypes? And how can we fit a human’s essence into a few phrases or descriptors?

I think the idea that you can “find yourself”, or define your essence into a neat description, is impossible. We are all creatures who shift throughout the years, throughout the contexts of life, and throughout our experiences. No one is so steadfast in the way they act and believe that their worldview cannot be altered. We are all such complex beings, no one is just what they appear to be on the surface. And in order to create meaningful connections, we must be willing to take the time to ask people questions about themselves, because that is the closest thing to knowing someone’s “true self” that we can get to.

I think these questions are also the closest we can get to finding ourselves. Who we are is not what we are wearing or what we look like. It has nothing to do with our major or our plans after school. Who we are is what we are passionate about, what we believe in. And these four years, I have come closer to finding that out. It may be completely different in another for years, and that is okay. We deserve more than being put into a neat little box of faux descriptors. Instead, we should accept the freedom to alter ourselves, and know that who we are is whoever we choose to be.