Actual freedom is not seperation from anything, but rather the recognition of the meaning in the walls that surround you.
If there’s one cliché that I hate most out of all clichés I hear about college students, it’s “finding yourself.” It’s typically used in conjunction with backpacking trips to different places, most commonly Europe or Tibet or Nepal. What I dislike most about the “finding yourself” trope is not that the idea itself is disingenuous, but that “finding yourself” often amounts to completely generalizing and standardizing the very particular and individual process of developing a sense of self. This process for many consciously begins in college, but it’s important to know that one never finds oneself in four years. That’s the work of a lifetime.
So if you’re in college now, how do you go about finding yourself in an authentic instead of manufactured way? Well, of course, developing a sense of self is always a very personal journey, but I do believe that, considering all humans share certain characteristics, there are some methods I can delineate that will start you off on your journey. The rest is up to you.
First of all, it’s important to know why you’re just now starting to ask yourself these Big Questions about the self, the universe, and your place in it. Why are you thinking about this now, and why didn’t you really concern yourself with these questions in the past? College is a typical time to start developing a more solid sense of self simply because you no longer live in an environment in which most of your decisions are already made for you. In high school, you couldn’t really decide which classes to take. The decision to even attend classes was not really a choice either. You had to go. You didn’t really decide what to eat for dinner, and, even to a certain extent, couldn’t really decide which friends were yours. It was decided for you by the social stratifications that are common in nearly all high schools. In one way or another, your parents or your school or some other figurehead mostly managed your life. Not that this was a bad thing, though it may often have felt like it. When we’re young, we need limits.
Now, you have to make all sorts of decisions. What classes will you take? What will you major in? What friends will you hang out with? Who will you vote for? What will you do with your life? This onslaught of decisions will make you realize acutely that you are an individual self with volition. Once you realize this, you are on your way to “finding yourself.”
The next step, and incidentally, the last step in starting the journey to finding yourself is, as Socrates once said, to know thyself. You may not realize it, but over the years you’ve accumulated tons of received wisdom, preconceptions about the world and how it works from others. You’ve received it from your parents, from educators, from the media, from the culture and time in which you live. As such, it’s important to understand and carefully examine every bit of information that you’ve been fed your whole life. Do you agree with it? Do you stand by it? If so, why? Read opposite views on these bits of spoon-fed information and ask yourself if these opposing views make sense.
Create your own version of the world. Listen to everyone, but accept no one person or idea at face value. Thomas Szasz, an eminent psychiatrist and academic, once said:
“People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates.”
Stop looking for yourself. Go out there and create yourself.
Patricia Garza is a freelance writer and blogger who specializes in writing about education, student life, technology, online college accreditation, and trends in pedagogy. She is also interested in Continental philosophy and critical theory. Patricia welcomes your comments below!