Cling to it, to the fact that you don’t know who you are. Don’t try to make a drastic change in order to figure it out. We’re never really going to know who we are because we’re always changing. We just feel like we have to know who we are because we exist in a world where it’s more comfortable to put ourselves into categories.
We feel better when we can sum ourselves up in a Twitter byline or a LinkedIn profile. People want specific, one-worded answers to everything about us. Are we single or engaged or married? Are we straight or gay? Are we happy or sad? Are we liberal or conservative?
There’s no room for explanations. There’s no time to say “I’m not sure” or “I haven’t figured that out yet” or “I’m an entirely different thing than the options you’ve provided.” There’s just black and white, and we’re supposed to squeeze ourselves into one section or the other so that other people know how to behave around us.
We feel the need to either be magnificent or a failure. We have to do astonishing, remarkable things or we are nothing. People don’t want to hear about the everyday moments we experience. We don’t tell people about the time we rode in the car with our sibling and rolled the windows down, and the right song came on at the right moment, and we felt less alone. We don’t tell the world about the time we cried laughing at something that wasn’t funny, which just made us laugh more. We don’t discuss the tender moment we had with the stranger sitting next to us on the airplane, who made us feel better when the turbulence convinced us that we were going down.
We don’t think about these things because these things don’t feel like accomplishments. They seem too ordinary, so we forget that they’re special. We don’t realize these are the moments that are painting us into someone who is real and three-dimensional and strong and vulnerable and scared and confused and curious all at once. The normal, uneventful moments are the ones that give us wisdom and memories and experiences and a million other things that make up the person we are today and the person we’ll be for the rest of our lives.
But we don’t realize that. Instead, we feel that we can only tell people about the concrete things that allow us to be measured. We talk about finishing grad school or passing the bar or getting engaged. And those things are all amazing feelings and amazing experiences. But we forget that the tiny moments are the ones that all come together to form a life. A unique, special life that has never been lived by anyone else.
The big moments, like promotions and weddings and births, are like the chapter markers. But there’s all this text you have to fill in in between those markers. That text in-between the markers is when we hibernate under the covers all day with someone special and we fall in love a little bit. It’s when we cry about something, and someone grabs our hand, which makes us cry more but also reminds us that we aren’t alone. The in-between text is filled with laughs over things we’ll never remember, and fights that bring us closer with our friends or families or partners, and late-night talks with someone you had previously misjudged.
When you don’t know who you are, just remember that you’re figuring it out every day. We’re still going to feel pressured to package ourselves up into something convenient and noncontroversial and easy to understand. One article is not going to change that. Our worry over other people’s opinions is always going to linger in the corner, but we can fight it and ignore it and make it as small as possible. When the worry starts to get to us, and we feel bad that we’re confused, and we forget to keep living, we have to remember that as soon as we know who we are, we’ve stopped growing. We will never reach a point where the mystery is solved and we can tell people who we are in one sentence. It doesn’t work like that. There is not a moment where we’ve become the person we’re supposed to be and we can just stop. That’s called dying.
Just keep trying things. Keep doing things you’ve never done before. Befriend people who came from different backgrounds than you. Listen to different music. Travel – not somewhere that seems impressive, but somewhere that you want to go. Do things that scare you. Do big things. You will learn a lot about yourself. But don’t underestimate the little moments. Don’t forget to just look sometimes. Look at trees and at your parents and at skylines and at someone who’s in love. Look at things that are ordinary. Experience things that are ordinary. Pay attention to what you think about these things and you will get to know yourself. And remember it is their very ordinariness that makes them so special. And these things, these special little things, will pile up one on top of another to make you the person you are, and the person you will keep becoming.