I ask myself this question all the time and still have no answer.
It’s not an unusual dilemma, I know. That’s why we talk about teenage identity crises and say the teenage years are for learning who you are.
I guess the hard part for me is I used to be so sure of who I was. As a child, I was a very creative person. I liked to write, draw, craft, and play music. I considered that to be my future pathway and if not, I knew these were things I enjoyed. They were my hobbies. It was a certain anchor for me.
Like every artist, I had creative ruts. But I also loved to read and study. I was that girl who “loved school”.
Labels. I loved labels. They were secure and clearly defined and unambiguous. They told me my destiny … my pathway. They wrote the story of my life.
I was the bookworm. I was the nerd … the straight A student. I was a writer. I was an artist. I was a musician.
It wasn’t long before I had another label to add to that, and this the biggest.
Not just any Catholic, mind you. I was the staunch faithful missionary practicing traditional Roman Catholic.
And this label became my ultimate anchor.
No matter what happened, I was God’s servant and He came first. I knew my mission – my calling. I was meant to give my life to serve God. With these thoughts, I planned to become a nun, or perhaps a teacher, nurse, social worker, or mother of many children. I would teach people about God. I would spread the word.
I felt a zeal in my heart.
I had my life planned out and I could go write a detailed mission statement, no problem.
When I look back, I’m amazed by how naive that little girl was. And I’m charmed by it, too, how she had such big dreams and thought she was so mature. God, she was still a child. I wonder when she used to comment on critical atheist posts, trying to set right their minds on what Catholicism really meant, whether they thought how clueless she was. They would have been right.
My faith lasted until I was about 15. (I think I entered teenagerhood rather later than most.) That was when I lost my faith and became, in quick succession, a Progressive Christian, then a deist, then an agnostic/atheist.
With that, I lost my religious anchor and I lost my primary mission.
My writing ambitions lasted a little longer but those too faded, as did my assurance that I would do human services in the future, as I used to think was my destiny.
I’ve become so confused about myself.
I still love labels. I like to put things in pretty little boxes.
And yet, I’ve realised that life never fits into neat little boxes. And maybe … maybe I don’t either.
I read a study that said the reason teenagers procrastinate is because they have not figured out their purpose or identity in life, making it difficult for them to figure out what they should be spending their time doing. So instead, they tend to spend it on consuming media, games, and other such entertainment.
This makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, I have to disagree about the use of the word “procrastination”. To procrastinate implies that there is something that needs to get done that you are putting off. But maybe, for many teens, they aren’t trying to get anything done, because they have no idea what they would want done. Hence, the social media/gamer generation.
There are so many variables in life. So many choices.
What do I like? Writing? Art? Music? Sports? Fashion?
Am I content with my “nerd” stereotype? Is that really me, or is that just what my upbringing and beliefs made me? Do I reinvent myself?
Fashion, although such a trivial thing, presents a dilemma just the same. It can be such a pointed form of expression. Am I a “casual” girl? Emo or goth? Girly? Tomboy? Flamboyant? Sexy?
I really don’t know, to be honest. I think there’s a little bit of every style in me.
And I really don’t know what I enjoy anymore. As crazy as it sounds, I can’t tell if I’m enjoying something or if I’m just doing it for the sake of doing something.
I know I like to spend time with people and talk. But then sometimes I wonder if I can keep it up. I wonder if I actually enjoy being this extroverted, laughing girl. I feel so melancholy and bruised and hurt sometimes that all I want is to be quiet. And that confuses me even more because I don’t think I could spend all my life being this person either.
I just can’t tell what I want anymore. I can’t tell who I am. It’s like Jekyll and Hyde.
If I like people, what kind of people? I’m really confused about relationships too. I don’t know what kind of guy I would want to date – quiet or boisterous? easygoing or sensitive? “good” boy or “bad” boy? I’ve come to realise I don’t really have a preference one way or another. I could fall in love with anyone. Maybe not even just guys. You never know. Even my sexuality isn’t clearly defined.
Then I wonder, do I even want to date? And if I do, do I want something casual or committed?
What do I want to do with my life? Do I want to go to college or not? Do I want to work or travel or do some exchange student program first? What would I work as? Where would I go? And if I went to college, what would I study? Where would I study?
Should I go somewhere far away, just to discover who I am?
Do I still want to work with people? Or do I want some creative job? Or maybe an academic job? Or a scientific job?
And what are my talents? If I’m to find a life path where I can apply my talents, I could narrow my options down to some degree.
People say I can write. I don’t know. I can write but I need something to write about. And sometimes writing bores me to death. Do I really want this to be my life?
It does my head in.
And if I don’t know what I want, how do I know how to spend my life?
I do have values.
I know I am a feminist. I am a staunch supporter of LGBTQ+ rights. I am against slavery and human trafficking – I think it’s an abominable and sickening practice. I want freedom of speech and religion. I know life is not black and white and there aren’t clear answers to many things.
I could be a writer advocating feminism or LGBTQ+ rights or stopping human trafficking. That makes sense and it would be very meaningful in the sense that it could potentially help thousands of people.
I realise I am very privileged. Many people don’t have the time or opportunity to ponder such questions because their life path has already been set out for them – they have to work their butts off earning enough money that they can live and every spare minute they have goes to studying so that they can get a better job. Some people are disabled and studying is hard for them, or they are in chronic pain and their options are greatly limited. Some people are not given choices because their parents force them into the labels they have chosen.
Is it worth figuring out who I am?
Isn’t helping people more important?
They say teens are always doing wacky things because they’re trying to figure out what they do and don’t like. They’re exploring who they are and who they want to be. They wear strange clothes and dye their hair weird colours and decorate their rooms and social media and can’t stop changing profile pics.
They watch TV shows and movies and listen to popular music, and hippie music, and everything in between.
It makes so much sense. This is the phase after you’ve realised you knew nothing as a child and now you’re trying to find out something and you’re trying to learn who you really are and you’re really not quite ready to choose your pathway. People always tell teenagers “it’s just a phase” and with many things, they’d be right. It is a phase. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important, for it influences who you will become.
There’s another dilemma, especially with the advent of the digital age. Inside, you know you’re confused about yourself and just figuring things out. But what do you show to other people? Do you show your happy, fun side, or your depressed, emo side? In real life, both sides sometimes peak out. But social media and the Internet is a good way to invent new personas. And that can cause our social media personas to be … well, nothing at all like ourselves.
Will teenage exploration really help solve the identity crisis? And how long will it take?
Perhaps more importantly, how long will that last?
I’ve become so tired of looking at issues from different perspectives. It’s fascinating, sure, and this is what real life is like. But it just makes me more confused and more conflicted about life.
There’s one thing I can say for sure: I haven’t got it all figured out and I won’t any time soon, if ever (which I highly doubt). In the meantime, I am going to be living like your typical teenager. I am going to watch TV shows and listen to popular music and wear crazy clothes and explore everything. I will become a jack of all trades, if only so I can find which trade is mine.
Exploration will become my lifestyle, because you know what? I’m not black and white either and labels can never comprehend enough to tell the story of my life.