Who are you? If you ask your mother, she might offer grandiose characteristics such as “amazing, extremely talented, beautiful inside and out…” Your friends might note your excellent dry sense of humor, your talent for belting out “Shake It Off” in the locker room after games, and your insatiable appetite for Peppermint Patty’s. People who don’t know you very well at school might suggest you are “Loud, smiley, and into sports and math.” When you stop to answer the question yourself, it’s probably more difficult to boil yourself down to just a few adjectives and flippant descriptors.
Pin-pointing just exactly who you are is important, and yet also unrealistic. You have likely never been the same person for more than a year or two since you were born (though you may have schlepped along your love of Brittany Spears since riding in the backseat booster chair) and your many obsessions and phases can only be traced with a fine-comb scrolling down your Facebook timeline. And yet all of the sudden you need to convey your identity in 500 or words or less for some mock college essay, and a handy definition strikes you as an urgent necessity.
Having a sense of who you are, however – despite your tremendous growth over the past five years alone – is a worthy trait to possess. When you know who you are, you are in a better position to respect your body, to exude confidence, to say “No” (or “Yes”), and mean it, and to attract the interest of friends and partners (as well as college admission officers!) for your maturity and sense of direction. This one single trait – self knowledge – also allows you to accept your flaws, and to know with certainty that you are capable of growing; that a year from now, your life can be different.
“Understanding who you are” is not a switch that can be flipped, however. Sometimes it comes with age and perspective, and sometimes it might never become apparent at all. But there are ways to check in with yourself and get a sense of what makes you tick; and sometimes it is precisely in understanding what has influenced your behavior or elicited emotional responses in the past that can give you an idea of what to expect in the future. Here are a few ways to cultivate a sense of identity as you continue to grow and change:
- Keep a Diary. It doesn’t have to be a regular thing, and it doesn’t have to recount your daily events. But when you are faced with a dilemma, feeling stressed, or experience an unusual episode in your life, it is helpful to keep track of your feelings, certain words, or even pictures that summarize your emotions.
- Take This Test. Taking personality quizzes (not necessarily Buzzfeed quizzes…) about yourself is interesting, relaxing, and often more insightful than you think. Keep track of your results and see if they show up in your daily reactions or decision-making.
- Read. Reading is a wonderful way to understand the minute, intimate details of characters that make up who they are and understand why they make certain decisions – in a way that binge watching Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead won’t always let you in on.
- Make a List. The classic “Pros & Cons” list is classic for a reason. When you are making a big decision, jot down the reasons why something might be a benefit to your life – or how it will make you a happier person – versus why it might have a negative impact on you emotionally or logistically.
- Talk to The People Who Know You Best. Your parents and friends can be an excellent way to dig deeper into your personality traits in ways that you don’t even notice yourself. Listen to what they have to say about your attitude (without taking offense, if possible!) and consider what is really going on internally whenever you “react” to particular situations in certain ways.
- Talk to a Counselor. Sometimes it is important to check in with someone who doesn’t know you all that well, but who understands the human condition and can guide you to a better understanding of your needs. Make an appointment with a school counselor, or talk with your parents about seeing someone professionally if you are feeling anxious, depressed, or stressed out.
- Schedule Routine ‘You’ Time. It’s easy to get lost in the onslaught of classes, practices, parents, friends, social media and sleep… but don’t let ‘sleep’ be the only time you find yourself alone. Being alone is a powerful way to sit with your feelings, take a deep breath, and think about what has happened recently in your life – and what you want to have happen next – without external influences or distractions.