Martha Price reflects on the pursuit of self-growth and identity change at University and the challenges that this pursuit can bring. For TWSS issue 15.
University is a completely new space: not just the studying, but the people, the lifestyle, the city. It can be both overwhelming and underwhelming – but somewhere in the midst of all that change is a chance to craft an entirely new identity.
With unfamiliarity comes a lot of opportunity for creation. It’s easy to seize this without much consideration and push yourself to shed old parts of your identity. No one would know if you suddenly developed a new extreme hobby or dress sense, political view, vocabulary. And while there’s nothing wrong with this – and self-driven change can be for the best if it comes from a good place, with self-love at its root – it can also be damaging. On top of being in unfamiliar surroundings, it can make you unfamiliar with yourself.
When I came to university, I was determined to rid myself of the image I’d developed during school. I wanted to be the complete opposite, and forced myself to do everything I could to make this happen – but instead of achieving a shiny new self, I ended up feeling very lost, as well as missing out on things I knew I would have loved – all for fear of not being the student I envisaged myself as.
This unfamiliarity might be an unavoidable part of the university experience, and often, change is inevitable. But the process can be confusing and frightening, especially in the swaps between home – where we might be one person – and uni, where we’re another. We can feel fragmented and disorientated.
We are our own harshest critic during times like this. Someone recently told me that I wouldn’t treat a friend the way I treat myself and that comparison really resonated. Although accepting the potentially unfamiliar is an honest and realistic way to engage with the university experience, it’s important to find something that makes that less overwhelming than it could be. Using the metaphors of healthy relationships with others (of any sort) to identify ways to better cultivate the relationship we have with ourselves is a good way to strike a balance which enables steady, pressure-free self-growth.
In seeking to positively change yourself, it’s important to set your own pace for that change. Be patient with yourself when what you’re aiming for hasn’t set in instantly. Get to know your true likes and dislikes – without apologising for them – and allow them fluidity and impermanence. It’s definitely a trial and error process, but taking the proper time to learn about yourself is really healthy. Take yourself out, and find places you like or things you like doing. Then do the things you like again, and not the ones you didn’t, or find a new one to add to your list. Little things like this can make the biggest difference, and there’s nothing that has to be static about it. The learning process is something to keep up.
The importance of this translates into bigger things, too, like making decisions about life after uni. Answers to those sorts of questions are expected almost instantly – but being patient can help make the decision-making process less intense. Taking inspiration from others can provide a massive source of strength: friends, a society, a good book. Having something else to support you, as well as yourself, is always reassuring.
None of this is necessarily new advice. But using the notion and direction of healthy relationships is a good starting point to justify the self-care as we learn which parts of ourselves we accept, and which we want to develop – as well as allowing the constant natural growth and change we might experience while in the throes of uni life.
Taking time to adjust to the unfamiliar parts of yourself is something we often forget, and allowing yourself a healthy unfamiliarity can be good. Be excited to find out who you are, and who you might become. At the same time, retaining some familiarity in the unfamiliar is comforting – above all, learning to spend time with yourself, for yourself, is a worthy investment.
Illustration by Rosa Stevens.