Go Find Yourself
My travels in Australia could have been cast as the prototypical coming-of-age journey: a young man goes to a far off land alone to find himself.
But I didn’t go to Australia to find myself. I knew too much of myself already. Instead, venturing to Australia was more an exercise in trying to lose myself—to get out of the person who I knew too well and to try a different lifestyle for a change. Australia would be a place I could be free to experiment with identity.
Young people finding their identity is perhaps the defining mark in the transition from childhood to adulthood. As developmental psychologist Erik Erikson would describe it, the primary existential question of emerging adulthood (Stage 5) is that of Identity versus Role Confusion. Classically portrayed as the angsty teenagers’ struggle for self, this stage of psychosocial development often lasts into young adulthood, ending when the individuals’ personal identity becomes fairly consistent for the remainder of life. Though the age individuals go through this stage varies, the greater struggles of Erikson’s Stage 5 will typically be resolved around my age, sometime in the 20’s.
Thus, going to Australia didn’t necessary teach me who I was; more so it reaffirmed who I was already. As a result, I had inherently less identity formation to undergo, and was faced instead with a related identity struggle—figuring out how to live the rest of my life with this person I’ve grown to be.
In my challenges with my identity, there are things I know about myself that I struggle with accepting. There are some things I wish I could be just a little bit different—I’m terribly shy and introverted; spontaneity is quite a ways out of my comfort zone; I tend to take everyday matters way too seriously, etc. The list could go on about things I believe society expects me to be, but that I feel I just don’t measure up to.
Travelling to Australia, I held the assumption that going to an exotic country where no one had any pre-conceived notions about me would allow me to branch out and escape the confines of my identity—in particular my temperament and personality. For once I just wanted to let loose, be spontaneous, hang out, party, and disregard the consequences. I also thought I’d play with some career roles by trying out jobs I’d likely never do in the States—fast food drone, a sociable waiter, the hospitality industry. I’d also grow out my hair one more time before I had to permanently adopt a well-groomed hairstyle for the remainder of my professional life.
Alas, I didn’t find myself becoming the wild, long-haired, care-free holiday-maker I had envisioned before my trip. Instead, my standard temperament took the reins. In Australia I struggled to be outgoing and to meet new people; I rarely was spontaneous and light-hearted enough to party in spite of the consequences; I never found a job in the service industry; and I never grew my hair out before getting fed up with its wild antics.
In the end, I found that I just couldn’t lose myself in Australia, though I put in a genuine effort to try out different roles for a change. Instead, my reliable temperament shone through even in my new surroundings. Like Socrates’ famous mandate I just couldn’t help but to “know thyself” even Down Under.
Moving forward, my challenge is to accept myself for who I know I am instead of thinking that a different persona is more desirable or acceptable. How can I make the best use of the character I’ve developed? What role do I fit into in adult life? Instead of seeing them as weaknesses, how can some things about me that I’m uneasy about be used as assets?
Going to Australia may have been the final throes of my greater struggles in Erikson’s stage 5. Sensing that I was nearing a very stable sense of self, I felt the necessity to try on different roles while I still had the freedom to experiment. For the most part, though, my personal character has cemented, deepened in part by the challenges I presented myself in Australia. Some conflicts of Stage 5 still remain, namely those of finding a career path and determining my role in the adult world. But on the whole, the person who I am today is the person I have found and have chosen for myself. For all its strengths and seeming inadequacies, I’m happy for that person.