On Learning to “Be Myself”

(Shirley Zhong)

It’s strange not knowing how to be yourself. The only comparable sensation I can think of is when I become aware of some innate bodily function, like blinking or breathing, and then, goddammit, why can’t I stop thinking about how to open and close my eyelids?

Coming into orientation a few weeks ago, I thought I knew who I was. At home, I knew where I belonged, the types of activities I enjoyed, the people I clicked with. I never needed to assert who I was to my friends – they just knew.

But, taken out of my comfortable context, I was forced to re-evaluate. Suddenly, I was shaking hands left and right, trying to befriend strangers through small talk about hometowns and majors.

This discomfort made it hard to communicate with others in a way that felt genuine to what I was actually feeling. I’d walk away from conversations with new classmates, disgusted with myself. Did you really just say that? What was I thinking? I felt out of touch with who I was, and I could sense that others felt the same.

To my surprise, the highlight of my first days on campus was taking my laptop to IT. The student, a senior, conversed with me as she connected my laptop to my dorm printer and installed protective software.

She was refreshingly relaxed and candid. Unlike the first-years I had been surrounded by all day, she felt no need to establish herself at Scripps. I immediately decided that I wanted to approach my future social interactions with her sincerity. I’d just be myself.

Easier said than done.

“Just be yourself!” is the advice we were all given. But in many ways I felt like the myself I knew wasn’t the myself I wanted to present to others. The only “self” I knew spent her entire life in the same affluent suburban community, the same social circles, the same daily routine of school, homework, extracurriculars, sleep.

Given the newfound independence of college life, I don’t think anyone wants to be their high school self in college. I had to ask myself: “So, who do you want to be?” I don’t think I’ll ever be able to answer this question with 100 percent certainty, although I hope I’ll get closer as time moves on. But during orientation, and for the time being, I have realized the value of honesty.

It was easy during first-year events to slip into a hyper-positive, uber-excited-to-be-here mask. Under the bright lights of the Scripps College field for the first 5C event, I felt scrutinized by my fellow first-years, many of whom – I now assume – felt just as uncomfortable as I did. I tried to conform to whoever I was speaking to at that moment in time.

Being a social chameleon is great for meeting people, but desiring deeper connections, I had to dig deeper and extract exactly what I wanted out of college friendships. To attract people who like the real you, you have to identify how you feel at that moment in time and express that.

Finding the real you at this transitional time necessitates that you combine your knowledge of your past and with your uncertainties for the future.

Talk about your involvement in a high school club, but disclose your current fears about finding your place on campus. Facetime old friends from home, but change it up and sit next to someone new in your writing section. Tell old stories, but make new memories.

It’s difficult to discover a balance between who you used to be and the person you want to become, but in many ways I feel that’s what college is all about. Be bold, and take the first step.

Hi, I’m Corinne. It’s nice to meet you.

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