… but who am I?
I remember taking a class in the spring of my freshman year. It was called Beyond Reason: Empathy and Identity. In this class, we investigated different factors that contributed to personal development. In particular, we focused on Marcia’s identity theory.
In his theory, there are four statuses, each of which may occur throughout your adolescent and young adult years. We characterized this time period as “emerging adulthood,” for those who were transitioning into the responsibilities associated with becoming an adult.
Here are the four statuses, as quoted by the site I linked to above.
Identity Diffusion — the status in which the adolescent does not have a sense of having choices; he or she has not yet made (nor is attempting/willing to make) a commitment
This was, to me, the ideal state for me to be in as a freshman in college. With no idea of my career path ahead, I was open to exploring anything and everything.
Identity Foreclosure — the status in which the adolescent seems willing to commit to some relevant roles, values, or goals for the future. Adolescents in this stage have not experienced an identity crisis. They tend to conform to the expectations of others regarding their future (e. g. allowing a parent to determine a career direction) As such, these individuals have not explored a range of options.
I never really attained this status, as my parents didn’t force me to pursue a particular path. As such, I was given the opportunity to forge my own path.
Identity Moratorium — the status in which the adolescent is currently in a crisis, exploring various commitments and is ready to make choices, but has not made a commitment to these choices yet.
I have been in identity crisis mode for who knows how long. It’s not a fear of commitment so much as feeling overwhelmed by the many directions my life could go based on factors outside of my control.
Identity Achievement — the status in which adolescent has gone through a identity crisis and has made a commitment to a sense of identity (i.e. certain role or value) that he or she has chosen.
I don’t believe I’ve reached this status, but I do think I’m working towards it. My core value has become authenticity, even to the point where I risk being painfully honest. I realize there are times where I behave contrary to my values, but I try to minimize those instances as much as possible.
I’ve spent a long time soul-searching and wondering who I was and what I was given the opportunity to do with my one and only life here.
And I’d be lying if I told you I knew exactly what I was here to do.
But based on what I’ve learned throughout my life, I realized a few things.
The self is undergoing constant change.
Is the girl on the left the same person as the baby on the right? Although they occupy the same body, have they changed significantly? Do they possess the same identity or sense of self throughout the passage of time?
The answer to the last question, to me, is no. I am different even from how I was yesterday. My thoughts and preferences change over time, based on my experiences.
Like me, others change over time to become different people.
My best friend from kindergarten has changed significantly from then til now. Our friendship has undergone changes as we grow and develop as different individuals at different schools. Although I would call her one of my oldest friends, I believe it is best to treat our friendship as though it was something new — an ever-changing relationship between two people who are each undergoing constant change.
You are not defined by the people you associate with.
They say you’re the average of the top five friends you have, but I believe you still exist separately and contain unique qualities that differ from those of your friends. Of course, they may share similar values to you.. but what they do or say does not define you.
At the end of the day, the self is an illusion.
There’s been speculation over whether the cells in your body regenerate over the course of 7 to 15 years. This means that the body you’re in now may only share a few cells in common with the body you inhabited years ago.
So if your physical self is not constant, then is your personality constant?
I went from being an introvert to an extrovert over the course of my college career.
My confidence level varied depending on the context I was in.
And Buddhism touts the theory of no-self (anatman), the gist of which is that there is ultimately no permanent, unchanging self.
So how do you “be yourself” when your self does not exist?
I believe that the core of who you are has to do with your value system. As mentioned in therapy and in writings related to psychology, we often strive to live a life that is aligned with our values.
The values you prioritize may shift throughout time.
But at the end of the day, ask yourself what you value most. Is it honesty? Loyalty? Reliability? Trustworthiness? Respect?
As Aristotle would suggest, you can choose to live your life according to the doctrines within virtue ethics. You can adopt healthier, more virtuous habits and build your character from there.
I’ve devoted myself to my writing as a way to synthesize all the information I’ve gathered throughout life — through books, conversations, media, TED talks, and more — and construct a better understanding of what it means to live a meaningful life.
This sort of deeper-level thinking whisks me away from the shallow surface-level worries that buzz in my brain and allows me to gain new insights into what it means to be human.
So regardless of what status you’re at in terms of identity development, just know that when people tell you to be yourself, that means that you ought to have the freedom to be genuine in your interactions with people. You can choose to be vulnerable around those you trust. You can choose to present yourself wholeheartedly and live your life according to your own truths. In a world governed by so many different faiths and doctrines, you can learn so much from others and seek wisdom through reflecting on your own experiences. I suppose in this regard, I advocate a lot of Emerson’s opinions within “Self-Reliance.” I think it’s on us to breathe meaning into our lives and grow from our pasts— it’s on us to stand up when we fall and reflect on the times we’ve had to better prepare ourselves for what’s to come.
So maybe at the end of the day, the main message isn’t just to “be yourself.”
It isn’t to “find yourself” when you are lost.
Instead, create yourself. You are the author of your own story. Live according to your values, and live fully rather than cautiously or halfheartedly.
We’ve only got one shot, so we might as well make it count.