Take a second to think about it. Consider the life you’ve lived and the experiences that have shaped you. Yes, we’re all constantly changing and developing, but reflect on those key characteristics, the traits by which you define yourself – when did they start to emerge?
I think some people have it pretty easy – they’re born a well flushed-out version of their true selves. They know from the get-go who they are. Even more than what they want in life, they know exactly what defines them as a person. And usually, they’re not afraid to embrace all aspects of themselves. For others of us, it’s harder. It takes times to learn, to develop, and to grow into who we’re meant to be. And I think that’s ok. For us, it’s the subtle joys and pains that we witness in everyday life that gently shape us and pull us in one direction or another. Eventually, we find the path we’re meant to follow, and, hopefully, the courage to take the first step in that direction.
At this crossroads in my life, I find myself thinking a lot about where I’m heading. College is behind me, but I haven’t completely figured out my place in adulthood. I have a new job, a new home, and a new city stretching out before me. As I consider where my path of life will take me, I realize that my sophomore year of college was a defining turning point for me. At the time it didn’t feel like a momentous period, but looking back now, I see that year as somewhat of a pivot point. The values I uphold above all others, and the characteristics I most pride in myself – both came about because I chose, at that point in life, to start cultivating them.
As is often the case, this growth was influenced by the people around me. Sometimes, others serve as role models, inspiring us to be better versions of ourselves. Friends and peers can also act as examples of what we don’t want to be, and ignite in us a search for something different, something better. In my second year of college, I found myself fed up and disappointed – with constantly being stood up, or let down, or even walked out on by people I thought were my friends. It was then that I finally realized that we get to chose the people we let in to our lives, and we only ever get in life what we ask for. It occurred to me that in order to have the friends I hoped for, I needed to be the person I aspired to be.
So I turned my focus onto myself, working to cultivate the compassion, sensitivity, and loyalty I sought in others. Much to my surprise, this change in perspective not only helped me to become more confident and happy with myself, it also led me to a better group of friends than I could ever have imagined. Looking forward to the next chapter of life, it’s true that there are so many unknowns. I have no idea whether in five years, or even two, I’ll be working the same job or living in the same city. But I do know now who I am, and wherever life takes me I’ll continue to carry with me and treasure these values.
So maybe you’re one of those lucky ones, whose first words were an assertive declaration of selfhood. Or maybe, like me, you’ve learned to discover and accept the version of you that will make you happiest. Maybe you’re just starting out on this journey. Either way, I encourage all of us to take the time to appreciate what makes us who we are, and to never give up on those unique and irreplaceable qualities that matter most.