Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Coming to terms with who you are at university

It was the beginning of my second year when I discovered that the old adage of “you’ll work out who you are in university,” does, in fact, ring true. You may well roll your eyes at parents and teachers who tell you this line, just as I did; you may expect when you come here to simply adapt to a new workload, gain some new friends and some new skills, and to cook several haphazard meals. Yet I’ve come to the realisation that university also opens an unexpected door to the psyche. This door is special. It’s one that can really allow us to blossom, and it’s unlocked specifically by beginning this new chapter of life.

Now, call me crazy, but our cocktail of sudden independence – mixed with confronting your insecurities and demons in a new and unfamiliar environment – can cause something magical to happen. For me, this came in the form of a strange and sudden epiphany about who I was. Something inside of me had been strengthening and developing since I had come to university; I’d gained my newfound courage and self-awareness from living solely with myself, as I was no longer under my parents’ roof. Now, on a foggy day in September, my heart seemed to call out to me for recognition at last. 

Discovering who you are can include an array of realisations. Multitudes of students at university find chunks of gold amidst the very murky rivers of their wandering minds. Maybe their sexualities aren’t what they thought they were; nor their gender expressions; nor their tastes and wants. Perhaps they discover that they’re neurodivergent. Or, perhaps they find themselves growing acquainted with the anxiety or depression that follows them around.

If you too experience a flux in your identity, you truly aren’t alone

Mental health, in particular, is a topic that still holds a significant stigma to this day and is a thing that we humans tend to gloss over in ourselves as simply ‘tiredness’ or the classic “I’m not really feeling it,” when our flatmates ask us out for a drink. Yet choosing to fight back against the societal shame surrounding these facets allows students to finally confess that they, too, are simply real people.

In this way, as university coaxes us to leaf through the pages of our souls, it can also encourage us to plant the seed of a special kind of acceptance. Acceptance towards yourself, and who you really are. So, here I write this to you, reader. Know that if you too experience a flux in your identity, you truly aren’t alone. And I can promise you that it really does get better – that is, after you identify and embrace your own individual battles and quirks.

See, the first lesson that university taught me is that there’s nothing shameful about being a human being. Some of us learn this much later in life, but it’s to be said that being around so much diversity in our twenties can really help us to open our eyes to this. When it comes to the topic of self-acceptance, we should all come first in our lives no matter what. This is how we come to terms with who we are, after all. At university – our strange bridge between packed lunches and corporate jobs that thrum with promises and life – it’s ever more important that you come first.

Impostor syndrome will make its home inside of us

Whether you were bullied; cast out at school for your hair or your face or your skin; whether you struggled to stay afloat throughout your teenage years; whether you found it difficult to make friends or had a difficult home life; or, conversely, whether you sailed through your upbringing with flying colours; we must all remember to really make time for ourselves. Why? Well, because we’re important. 

After endless hours of studying and socialising, it’s healing to really look inwards at yourself. If not to discover yourself, but at least to unwind and unplug from the rat race. Who knows – you may well learn a thing or two about yourself in the process.

The recipe for introspection is no secret, and it looks different for everybody. However, there are some trusty techniques that we can apply. For one, counselling is a great option: especially for really becoming friends with yourself. We falsely believe that when we arrive anywhere – although particularly at university – that everyone is far more accomplished than we are; far more self-aware; far happier; far funnier; and the good old impostor syndrome will make its home inside of us until we speak to a professional someone who can tell us that we’re not the only one.

It’s okay to come to terms with who you are

It’s true that everyone is just playing a game. Other pathways to connect to yourself include indulging in a bit of mindfulness: anything from meditation, to visualisations, to breathing techniques are all things that I, personally, treasure. Alternatively, there are your easy fixes: such as taking a bath, creating a playlist of your favourite songs, reading a good book, or simply having a chat with someone you trust.

I’ll tell you the secret of it all, too. If you make unwinding enough of a habit, you’ll start learning all sorts of things about yourself that didn’t have time to reveal themselves before, when you were swept up in the bustle of your student life. For you see, that’s how the epiphany happens. It’s important to note that impostor syndrome is so common that it all occurs at different rates. And that’s okay. 

It’s okay to come to terms with who you are, particularly at the cusp of twenty, when the fire of life is just igniting itself. Whatever you find, may you know that you’re beautiful exactly as you are – exactly as you were meant to be?

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