So a couple weeks ago I turned in my first college essay. The prompt was to simply answer the question: “Who Am I?” It proved to be pretty difficult for me to answer, which didn’t surprise me. I am not particularly an introspective person, and thinking about my identity and sense of purpose in the world, etc. required me to leave my comfort zone a bit. But, I did. And I wrote an essay. And I have decided to share it on my blog. So here it is.
A Thought or Two About Myself
Life, for me, has always been a game of fitting into different roles. Who I am internally is pretty consistent. However, what I choose to show others changes constantly. I evaluate the situation, see where I fit in best, and adapt my personality accordingly. This may sound like a poor character trait to many people, but I disagree.
I think everyone partakes in “role playing” to a degree. For example, think about interviewing for a job. If you consider yourself outgoing and energetic, but then realize that your interviewers are very stern and mundane, you aren’t likely to be one hundred percent yourself during that interview, because you want to do well and you want the job. My point is that I do not think that showing different sides of oneself to different people is a bad thing. I think it is completely necessary if you want to succeed in life. Just because you love yourself just the way you are doesn’t mean everyone else does, too. You have to be willing to adapt.
Sociologist Erving Goffman developed an interesting theory about varying presentations of oneself. During his lifetime, he theorized that all people partake in “theatrical presentations” of themselves that can vary to a significant degree, depending on whom they are around. What Goffman came to conclude is that people have multi-faceted personalities, and choose with each encounter, which side or sides to reveal.
Now, I said above that I fit into whichever role I think needs to be filled. Well, that’s not entirely irrefutable. There are people who I can open up to a little more. These people, family and close friends, know a side of me that is closer to the “real deal.” But really, if you think about it, the only person who truly knows who we are is our self. Everyone else has to interpret what we decide to show.
I have always been loyal to those who I am closest. My mother describes me as a golden retriever: loyal, endearing, and eager to please. One of my strongest values is “family first,” which sounds obnoxiously cliché, but has rung true in my life for as long as I can remember. The family unit I grew up in is definitely responsible for who I am today, but not in the way one might think. My family has always pledged to love and respect all members, regardless of which “life path” he or she decides to choose. This accepting environment has allowed me to try new things and question my beliefs and upbringing, ultimately refining my sense of self. I am not a carbon copy of my parents.
I have always been a doer. My dad describes me as a beaver: hard working, goal-oriented, and productive. I remember deciding in the third grade that I would write my own book, and that same night, I cranked out twelve chapters! Granted these “chapters” were each half a page long and typed in 18-point font. My point is that I follow through. Usually. I say usually because I have learned over the years that I cannot do everything I want. Time has proven itself to be my worst enemy. I am always thinking of ways that I could be more efficient, could cram in a little extra into my schedule. But I am never satisfied. While I may be a beaver, I unfortunately am not a time lord.
However, when something deeply inspires me, I throw out all reservations and pursue it with alacritous passion. I embody this passion and make sure that whatever I do is authentic and exceptional. The most recent example of my “gung-ho” attitude was when I established a health and wellness club at my high school. Within the first month of school, the club initiated the district’s first school-wide recycling program, brought the anti-bullying organization, Rachel’s Challenge, to present to the student body, led a suicide prevention campaign that raised 500 dollars for the Pueblo Suicide Prevention Center, and attracted over 100 members. And that was only the beginning. When the spark of inspiration ignites within me, expect a wild fire.
I have always been a sensitive person, but when I was younger, it was actually pretty pathetic. I remember in second grade playing a game called “Around the World.” The premise of this game was to see how far you could make it around the classroom, competing against one other student at a time in answering a math question. The teacher held up a flash card with a simple multiplication problem and the student to shout out the correct answer first got to move to the next desk and challenge the next student. I remember being undefeated and utterly indefatigable. I was on a roll and had almost made it “around the world.” Eventually another student got the best of me, which was fine with me. But then the entire class started to cheer. I immediately felt singled out and humiliated. I still remember the color rising to my face as I buried it into my folded arms. The class was simply relieved to see a change in pace, but at the time, it crushed me. My insecurities and resultant oversensitivity followed me throughout much of my elementary school years.
Of course, as I grew older and matured, these instances stopped affecting me so drastically. However, I also believe that joining my first club swim team in the third grade helped progress this maturation. Swimming for Pueblo Swim Club was a full time commitment and our workouts were exceedingly rigorous. Even as a nine-year-old, I was pushed beyond my comfort zone and expected to keep up with the older swimmers. Joining the team marked the beginning of a decade of gasping for air and eating like a shipwreck survivor after practice. One instance of the “tough-love” my coaches showed me was when we were doing “pigs.” Pigs were when we went to the deep end and pushed off the bottom right against the wall, then pulled ourselves out of the water on the ledge until our arms were fully extended, dropped back down to the bottom of the pool, then repeated that process for a predetermined amount of time. At the end of the pigs, my coach was upset that we had snuck in half-second long conversations each time our bodies were out of the water. She said we were slacking off and made us re-do the pigs. What particularly affected me was when she turned to me and said,
“What’s the matter, Paul? Are your scrawny little arms too tired to do this over again?” Yes, swimming definitely toughened me up. However, I can still let little things bother me, even after all of these years. I am not made of stone. And frankly, I am glad that I’m not. Stone sinks in water.
One moral that I always abide by is to be inclusive and respectful to every person I meet. This has become far more than a “grin and bear it” mind frame. I believe that every single person I meet has value, has something valuable to share, and every single person deserves the benefit of the doubt. I like this way of thinking. It has truly contributed to my happiness. Of course, there is a line between being kind and respectful to everyone and being a pushover. Every day I learn, and every day I refine this moral and redraw the line with more precision.
As I stated at the beginning of this essay, what I choose to show other people can differ from who I truly am. This is not because I am “fake.” In fact, I believe it is the exact opposite reason. I have never felt comfortable being unreserved around people I don’t know very well. It feels phony. Instead I like to ease into things, relying on my method of inclusion and respect, and slowly revealing a bit more of myself as time goes on.
I’ve realized that college is a time for self-centeredness. I don’t mean this in a bad way. College is the time for us to show the world who we are and what we have to offer and it is the time for us to declare our dreams and go out and use resources and make connections and make those dreams come true. And, I have realized that I am not comfortable with doing any of that. Instead, I am trying to see college as a time for building genuine friendships, not for the purposes of having connections in the future, but because the friendships are an attribute to my happiness. I do not see college as a time for me to show myself off. Instead, I want to make my college experience one filled with new ways of thinking and living, and I want to expand my realm of knowledge and experiences while I am here. And I can only hope that everything else will fall into place. Have I found any of these things yet? Who knows, it is still too early for me to tell. But I will continue on this path because it is the only one I know and so far, life has been pretty fantastic. That’s the way I operate and that is who I am.