On struggling with identities

In the midst of dealing with being in graduate school, I also had an identity crisis.  Seriously, it wasn’t something I needed on top of being stressed out about research.  Basically, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. This stemmed from the constant day dreaming of finishing up my master’s degree and finally leaving the safety net of school…and a future where I didn’t have to ever hold a pipette again, deal with ass mud, or wait for science to defrost.  Through my time as a graduate student, a co-op student working in the engineering field, and my time in Engineers Without Borders, I simply didn’t know what I wanted to do.

Now, I want to explain quickly that graduate school has a funny way of undermining your self-confidence; making you realize how little you truly know and how easy it is to stumble into failures.  And in the middle of this identity crisis, this lack of self-confidence filled me with doubt at what I could succeed in doing for the rest of my life, and more importantly be happy and content in doing.

So. What should I do? What should I be?  Should I be Jeff the Environmental Engineer?  Should I be Jeff the researcher?  Should I be Jeff the social change leader?  Should I be Jeff the youth advocate?  Should I be Jeff the educator?  Or should I be Jeff the coach and enabler?

All I wanted was a niche.  I just wanted to fit in.  It was junior high all over again!  OH MY GOODNESS!  My worst nightmares that I thought I were over were coming back into my life!

And then it dawned on me.  And I don’t even remember how this thought finally came into my exhausted mind, but I realized I was thinking about this completely backwards.

Reality is, I am Jeff.  I am multi-faceted.  I am not any one particular thing or role.  Instead of being shoved into a tiny cubby hole in society, it is completely the opposite.  I realized I was actually the cubby hole, and that different roles fit me (Please… I’m trying to be serious here, must you think of the innuendos?).  I can be, and I AM, an environmental engineer (in-training I guess), an environmentalist, a youth advocate, a researcher, an educator, a coach, a social change agent and so many more things rolled into one.  I don’t know how I came to the idea that I needed to fit into society in some way, but I’m glad I realized that was bullshit, and that I am more dynamic and abstract than any one identity.

I’m still not perfect at this, and I never will be.  But, I’m learning that at different points of my life, bits and pieces will be thrown out, and new roles and identities will be thrown in the mix to make me who I am. After all, Life is about creating, learning, discovering and growth, not about finding, fitting in and being complacent.

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2 thoughts on “On struggling with identities

  1. Rob says:

    I like the phrase “the safety net of school”. School is an environment where failure has no real consequence outside of GPA, and the margin for error is far greater than in the “real world”. Then, we step out into the real-world, the workforce, and that same luxury isn’t available. It’s all about building self-confidence and learning to deal with failures. Great post!

  2. tblacquiere says:

    I think that’s why you get so many folks who just end up in grad school with no real idea why – despite the daunting amount of debt, its still a much easier and safer alternative than facing the “real world”, where things are undefined and open ended.

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