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Sunday, May 26, 2024

You don’t have to have it all figured out

Losing yourself is the path to self-discovery

 

By YASMEEN O’BRIEN — yjobrien@ucdavis.edu

 

As my graduation date approaches, I’ve been feeling pressure to get my life in order. But every time I take a step back to think about it, I realize that the whole point of being a college student is to experiment and discover my identity. I was hesitant to write this piece at the risk of sounding cliché, but I decided it’s helpful to hear this, even if you’ve heard it before.

As college students soon to enter the “real world,” it’s common to feel a sense of confusion about who we are, what we’re doing and how the world works; the list goes on and on. We wonder who we’re supposed to be, which, in our society, is defined by what we do for work. This pressure to plan out our lives can suffocate us, and it’s important to give ourselves the space to figure it out. This is where losing yourself comes in.

So, what does it mean to lose yourself? It means not knowing who you are yet or everything you like and don’t like and owning the fact that you’re still learning. It means to do all kinds of experimenting; to try new things and take risks that may feel “out of character” but excite you. It means making decisions that don’t pan out the way you thought they would and learning from them. It means making mistakes. It means feeling confused and unsure about how your future will fall into place.

I recently went through a period of feeling lost, which I know is not uncommon. I was experiencing confusion about what I wanted to do with my life and was hard on myself for wasting time and changing my mind. 

I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but after two years of studying biology, familiarizing myself with the process of becoming one and deeply understanding the work they do, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me. It didn’t excite me. The more I learned, the more I couldn’t picture myself in that profession. I was afraid of my parent’s reaction and upset that I was unable to stick to my plan.

One day, I realized I had been focusing too much on the negatives of being confused. It was important to embrace the confusion. It was okay that I changed my mind. It was natural; necessary even. I hadn’t wasted time because I discovered my true calling and learned so much in the classes I took. I don’t have any regrets.

I have come to learn that losing yourself is really the only way to discover who you are. Life experience is the best education you can get, and losing yourself in the search for your identity, in love, in your studies and even physically can teach you valuable lessons. But it can be difficult to do this, and it’s easy to feel inadequate when you don’t “figure it out” and meet the expectations of yourself and others.

Allowing yourself to take a step off the beaten path gives you the experiences that shape who you are. It gives you a chance to make your own decisions — albeit with some trial and error — and find out what you truly like and dislike. Losing yourself in college also allows you to feel your emotions deeply — which is not an easy task, but an incredibly important one. 

This brings us closer to ourselves and one step closer to leading a fulfilling life, in which we set boundaries for ourselves and respect them and feel strong in our identity and comfortable enough to open ourselves to others.

Additionally, remember that losing yourself is always temporary. You will find your way back. It’s important to remember that, as young people, our identities are supposed to change as our lives change. That’s how you grow. Odds are you’ll come out of a period of growth as someone stronger, more in touch with your needs and desires and more empathetic — kinder to others and yourself. 

So really, losing yourself is how you find yourself. You have to lose yourself, in many ways and many times. Each time, you’ll connect with yourself in a new and important way. I think that’s one of the purposes of the human experience. It’s confusing not to feel grounded, like the Earth has been swept from under your feet, but I think this lack of feeling grounded gives us the ability to find what grounds us. Enjoy this journey.

So take a class that interests you outside of your major, go for a walk with no destination or take a chance on someone. Give yourself the opportunity to marvel at something, to take a leap of faith, to try something completely new, to lose your way. That is the greatest gift you can give yourself.

 

Written by: Yasmeen O’Brien — yjobrien@ucdavis.edu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.