Identity exploration is often found embedded with invisible ink in the fine print of a college diploma. You may try to avoid it like you do with that loud, obnoxious classmate sitting in the back of the classroom. Yet sooner or later, you will find yourself having a heart-to-heart conversation with that inevitable unofficial graduation requirement never mentioned in any university catalog. What is it?
What does identify exploration look like? And most importantly, what does it want?
In simple terms, identity exploration is the search for the self—which oftentimes goes hand-in-hand with a strong perception of who you are or a sense of where you belong. You were probably given one or more labels to wear throughout your life.
Some were probably passed down to you by your parents, or placed there by your cultural background, local community or faith-based institutions. Some of them may have been put there by your peers when you decided to associate with a particular group of friends or join a team that represented common personal interests.
Now, what makes identity exploration different is that, this time around, you get to search through, try on, and experiment with a plethora of personal identifiers. None are right or wrong. They just are. Some may resonate with you long term while others may stick with you for a season or two. Some identities may be obvious to many while others cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Society often tries to tell us who we are, what to say, how to think, and what to believe in. In turn, some of us may face difficulty navigating and embracing this exploration process. Members of a particular ethnic group may think you are not ethnic enough. Perhaps family members want to pray away your evolving views on sexual orientation or gender identity.
You may find yourself stuck in a toxic work environment that favors employees of a certain size, educational level or physical ability. Perhaps you do not see people like you in the media. Maybe you feel challenged to accept the areas of your own privilege and power. Too often, questions of identity are bottled up and buried in fear, or condemned and shamed. It is important to know that regardless of how you choose to identify yourself, identity exploration is an ever-evolving process of self and community that is to be celebrated.
There is no easier place to get lost in the self-exploration journey than in college. After all, higher education opens up a whole new world of ideas, views, perspectives and beliefs, along with all kinds of people.
We notice areas we identify with and other areas we do not. And sometimes, we choose to contribute to this new world for others to see. When lost, talk to a friend, or reach out to the many community resources around you. Perhaps you can ask others about their journey to their identity, attend events of communities that are new to you, or visit different campus or local groups. Check out groups at Pacific (https://www.pacificu.edu/life-pacific/clubs-organizations) or form a new one!
There is a sweet sense of freedom in discovering who you are, at your own pace, and in your own terms. If it is a continuing struggle and you need support, you are always welcome to visit the Student Counseling Center during our walk-in hours (M-F 12:00-1:00 p.m.) or call 503-352-2191 to make an initial consultation appointment.