I traveled home to North Carolina for an entire week during the middle of May. While I was home (meaning the place I was born and raised, not necessarily the place I feel is my home) I reflected on my past, present, and future. I have been thinking about who I am as a 23 year-old female living in Chicago as a volunteer. What does that mean exactly? How do I really define who I am?
Well the universal theme that I have been feeling and discussing with people my age is the unknowingness of who I am; really who we all are as 20 something year-olds. I have noticed many themes from recent college graduates including a feeling of uncertainty in one's identity. There is no one way to define one's self because the way one define's themselves is based on their interest, personality, characteristics, etc that they hold most dearly to their heart. As a psychology and sociology student at UNCA (also a liberal arts school that emphasizes constant reflection and critical thinking outside of one's major) I reflected quite a bit on a regular basis on my personality, other's personality, and humanity as a whole. In college, I felt that it was easier for me to reflect because I was constantly drawing from my personal experience to define a new psychological term or sociological experience that I had to describe in a paper. Therefore, reflection, if I liked it or not, was a constant part of my college experience.
Living in an intentional community and working at a soup kitchen, I told myself initially that I would write down everything that I thought and came across to better understand the life of someone who visits and eats at a soup kitchen as well as a time of reflection my own thoughts and ideas. Well, with anything in life, those memos and notes to myself slowly dwindled and excuses pervaded. Instead, I would forget a funny line one of the guests told me or put up walls against the guests so I did not have to feel something that day because it is exhausting to care. So as I am coming in to the end of volunteer program I have noticed many characteristics of myself reflected in the work I do each day and the things I do outside of work on a day to day basis. These walls I put up are walls I have been putting up my WHOLE life. I can remember even as a small child that I would put up walls in order not to feel. These walls come from a time in my life when I was made to grow up faster then most 6 year-old's.
My father has suffered from illness his whole life but it became more detrimental after the onset and diagnosis of Lupus. My dad was in the hospital off and on through out elementary school due to Lupus. I did not have a real understanding of what it was exactly other then a thing that took my father away from being my father. Moreover, I am the youngest of three kids so I was the one who had to face growing up faster. I had to dress myself, pour my own cereal, and wake myself up. Don't get me wrong, my parents were not negligent but I chose to take these task on so that I would not have to bother my parents. My mom and dad continued to work but there were days when my dad was so sick that he was unable to go to work. As a child, I did not understand the reality of sickness because my brain could not comprehend the idea of it. (The study of the developmental psychology shows that many children do not understand abstract ideas until a certain age.) In order to survive, I pushed many emotions out of my mind to function as a "normal" child.
Rather, I grew up self-motivated, goal-oriented, task-oriented, and independent. An employer would say that these are all positive characteristics, and I agree they are, but I missed a lot as a child that I am now dealing with as an adult. I am facing trust issues and emotional issues. I have learned to put things away in my mind to the point that I do not remember many aspects of my childhood.. whole years seem nonexistent.
Fast-forward to present day: A period of time that Erik Erikson would identify as the identity stage. Well Erikson believed this occurred in one's late teens but I argue that due to college, where identity is explored for 4 or 5 years, this is also a period of time where one can get away with not forming one's identity. Rather I would argue, identities are still being formed up until the late 20's because of continuous education such as college/graduate studies/phd studies, lack of palpable careers/choices, and an increase in technology. A recent Times article that I read while home in North Carolina at the dentist office spoke more about this issue, "Millennials" and their identity within a ever growing technological world. I can't quote this article because I could not find a copy of it available online but the identity theme ran throughout the article. (I recommend that everyone read it!)
So who am I? My past has made me a stronger independent person but caused many emotional problems that I am not facing as a 23 year old person. I see my ability to shut people out from my friends, family, boyfriend, and guests at the soup kitchen. I have noticed a theme through my life where I become numb in order to survive. However, my goal for the next two months is to make myself feel, to listen to people's stories, to balance emotional situations, and to talk about them upfront. Because at the same time I am a loving, compassionate person who finds joy in the guests at the soup kitchen, my friends, my boyfriend, and my family. I want to continue on in my identity formation to become the better me.
My past is creating my future and the changes I create now and help mold will be my future. Who am I? A constant change in the direction God grants me every day.