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Who are you, really?

Amanda Peña | Sunday, November 3, 2013

How have you changed in college? Who were you when you entered Notre Dame? More importantly, who is the person you would like to be when you leave Our Lady’s University?
College offers a unique opportunity for students to engage in academic, professional and personal enrichment; but between the assignment floods and extracurricular commitments, most students are not given the chance to reflect on the person they were, have become or are becoming.
I have spent much of fall break reflecting on these questions after an event in my relationship gave me the space to think about this. Who was I when I began my freshman year? Who did I want to become? What are some of the things that are preventing me from becoming that person? At the beginning of fall break, I replayed both painful and joyful memories that perpetuated academic and personal decisions I made, or didn’t make, during my freshman year. And I began to notice how that first year ignited something powerful in me that drastically changed the course of my succeeding college years.
I am cut from a very different cloth than most of my peers. As an ethnic minority from a lower economic status, my adjustment into college was a lot harder and lonelier than many people may understand. Experiences with racism were secondary to my internal feelings of embarrassment when I couldn’t afford winter clothes, football tickets and had to turn down invitations to off-campus dinners at places as cheap as Chipotle. Then you throw in the eating disorder and an unhealthy relationship on top of the standard first-year college struggles and you have a serious identity crisis.
But, these issues were a blessing in disguise. They influenced my academic decisions (self-designed major in Sustainable Development; Poverty Studies minor), altered my friendship circles and challenged my previous lack of faith. I found God in my pain, and having ignored the opportunities to explore my faith freshman year, I was determined to make changes to my life the following year.
Needless to say, my life has seen a dramatic upswing, and I am currently finding myself in a state of confusion, opportunity and big decision-making. I’ll be graduating in three semesters, and while that seems somewhat far away, my future is just a couple houses down from knocking on my door. And once I graduate and begin the next phase of my life, what will I know about myself before making those big decisions?
Will I be kicking myself for not taking classes I was heavily interested in but too afraid to fail? What were my priorities and how have they altered my relationships with the people around me?
Have I let God lead my life, or did I try to take control over the events in my life and stop listening to His whisper amidst the chaos? Have I been so consumed with what I’m expected to do that I’ve neglected the value of the small, precious moments that add more quality to my life than mundane obligations? Religious or not, I believe these are questions worth asking yourself as well.
I used to believe reflection was something you do on a formal retreat in complete solitude and silence. I never thought it would begin sitting across from my boyfriend at a table in the BK Lounge of LaFun.
Are there any discrepancies between the person I want to be and the person I am becoming?
Here, I was developing a passion for environmental issues and social justice but I had not developed a concept of my own abilities and skills. When people ask me what I’m good at, I seriously have no clue. When they ask what career I plan on pursuing, I can’t answer concretely.
And that’s perfectly okay.
It’s okay to not know who you are or where you’re going. You don’t need to follow the other sheep and find a nine-to-five job or go straight to grad school. Give yourself the time you deserve to listen to the voice inside that’s trying to discuss who you are and who you have the potential to become. You could be on a destructive path and not even know it. You could be opening doors for something beautiful and never acknowledge it as a good thing.
That whole “Take time to stop and smell the roses” thing – as clichéd as it is – is important. Don’t get so caught up with life that you forget how to live. Don’t neglect the people and things that add more substance to your life or let them get pushed to the wayside. Enjoy life for what it is and stop worrying about how that translates into the “real world.”
We are the “real world” and I want my presence in it to begin now … not after graduation. Who do you want to be?

Amanda Peña is a junior and a
sustainable development studies
major with a poverty studies minor. She can be contacted at
apena4@nd.edu.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.