Now that I am about to enter the last stretch of my first semester of college, I realized that I have spent a lot of time reflecting. Oftentimes I will find myself thinking about how college has changed me, and about what I have learned in my first semester. As I reflected on my journey, I realized that the weight of one of my most long-held concerns had been lifted over the course of the past few months. What was this concern? Well, in essence it all came down to one simple idea: not having secured an identity through a talent or passion.
In society today, it is common to endorse a certain mantra: the idea that we must try many activities and hobbies until we find ‘the one’ that will stick with us for the rest of our lives. There are many proven examples of this, which make its application ring with a certain truth. Many people become involved with music, a sport, or a form of art that they then continue and ‘perfect’ as they go through life. By the time you reach a certain age it is almost expected that you have discovered this talent, and that you are well on your way to becoming the best you can be. In many day-to-day conversations, such an inquiry may emerge. Questions and statements such as “what activities do you participate in outside of academics?” or “you will be following in your (family member)’s footsteps if you play soccer” appear frequently, and become more and more difficult to respond to as time goes on.
As a child I tried my fair share of activities, presumably in search of one that I resonated with. Gymnastics, ice skating, horseback riding, painting, sculpture, drawing, basketball, etc. With each activity I waited for the spark of resonance that was supposed to occur when I finally found the ‘perfect’ fit. When I was younger, I moved on to new activities without a shadow of doubt or uncertainty. It was simply ‘maybe it will be (the next activity)’. As I got older, I became more preoccupied. I was surrounded by musicians, artists, and athletes. I watched them continue to improve their skills, while I did not even know where else to look.
I began to lose hope, and I started to believe that there was no ‘perfect fit’ for me. I had not found my true calling, and it seemed as though I did not have many more options. Academics, while taking up the majority of my time, was not where my heart belonged. Once I got to high school, this worry became more pronounced. It seemed as though everyone had their ‘talent’, and were forming communities and bonds to that extent. I was not the dedicated academic, the performer, the athlete, or the artist. I did not fit inside these categories, and continued to search (with futility) for the ‘perfect fit’ that had to be out there. I drifted between groups, never fully belonging to any.
During my later years of high school I presumed that I was meant to be a drifter, moving between interests and communities instead of fully committing to one. What I did not realize was that I was both right and wrong. It was true that I did not have a ‘talent’ or a ‘calling’, and thus did not have a solidified community based upon such a skill. It was also true that, for that reason, I drifted between groups. I was an academic, a musician, an artist, and an athlete. Over the years I had developed attributes of all, while perfecting none.
My concern was not erased over the summer, and I found myself entering college with the same idea: that I would finally find my ‘talent’. I told myself that this had to be the time, because I was officially almost out of options. With that idea in mind, I went back to my all-too-familiar search. I tried Salsa dancing, running, etc. But once again, I became a part of groups that did not resonate with me. Defeated, I was ready to give up the search for good.
A few weeks ago, when engaging in a conversation about talent, I was posed with a question that shattered the glass wall that had been built within me: “why do you need a ‘talent’ to be your best self”? As I started to reply, words failed me as I began to formulate my automatic answer. Half-heartedly, I answered: “because that seems to be how it works, everyone has a ‘talent'”. I was met with another question. “What does skill have to do with self-identity”? My world shifted. I had no answer. Why had I been so intently focused on finding myself through a skill set? Then it hit me: in searching for myself through skill, I lost sight of the identity that was right in front of me. I am an academic, a reader, a writer, a cook, an animal lover, a friend, a lover of all things outdoorsy, an appreciator of music, etc. I am not one identity completely, but a mix of many. Yes, I am a drifter of sorts. But I am more than that. I am my own self. My best self.
No, I am not the best athlete, artist, musician, or academic. But I am composed of aspects from all categories: I am composed of the elements that I resonated with from each endeavor. Though I no longer play the violin, I have an appreciation for music. I am no longer an Ultimate Frisbee player, but I enjoy exercise. I am no longer a devoted academic, but I am a writer.
My perspective was changed by a conversation that challenged all that I had taught myself about the world, and about my place within it. For some, their best self is achieved through full commitment to a skill. But that is not the only reality. We can build our best selves from all of our experiences, and convey this self though multiple avenues. Our best selves can be expanded on and revised, and they are never finite. We have the ability to become and express our best selves, and continue to do so as we progress through life.
©The Wise Willow and Alyssa DeBella. All rights reserved.