To find yourself, spend time with yourself

It’s the end of another long day. You got up at six to go for an early morning run, then off to a few hours of lecture. A quick snack from the vending machine around noon, and then it was time for your Chemistry lab. After that, you hurried to catch the Route 6 bus to your late afternoon job, but at least you got out a few hours early to go to your sorority meeting. By the time you finished taking a couple hours to study and return all your phone messages (more time spent on the latter, of course), it was already time to get a few hours of sleep.
From the time you started thinking about college, you heard one message: get involved. Your older siblings, parents, guidance counselors and tour guides told you that the secret to a happy university experience was to get as involved as you possibly could. This, you were told, was the best way to get to know yourself, to discover your hidden interests and to form lifelong friendships.
Chances are that your extremely busy schedule was exciting at first: meeting new people in the dorms, classes full of genuine-looking students that you would like to get to know and a campus job that was light on work and heavy on socializing. You got acquainted with people who shared your interests in your student groups. So why do you feel so empty?
The University, like most institutes of higher education, no longer makes it a high priority to truly help students find their unique identities. Furthermore, the one thing that everybody thinks will help in that task, becoming involved, can actually stand in the way most of the time. If being involved means playing a cardboard cut-out role befitting a sitcom, it does no good whatsoever.
It can come to the point where it appears that everybody in your social circle is shallow and one-dimensional, though you are sure they are not. However, it is difficult to break the pattern of trivial conversation amidst beer cans and weekly viewings of “Friends.” In fact, you are so busy with the banality of your packed schedule you don’t have any time to do anything unique, let alone find yourself. Thus, you end up finding exhaustion and dullness in what should be challenging.
The solution can be an unpopular one, because it means giving up indicators of popularity and sociability. One can only go so far along the road to self-awareness by being in contact with others every waking hour of the day. It is important to have friends, but it is important to truly get to know the person you will be spending the rest of your life with: yourself. And the only way to do this is to do what you do with everybody else. Spend a whole lot of quality time alone.
Many times I hear my friends telling me the only opportunities they have to really think are when they are driving around alone in their cars. When they do find themselves alone, however, they find out all sorts of things. They see facets of their personalities that can get drowned out by the constant clatter of the unimportant activities going on all around. Remove all outside distractions and pull back within yourself to scrutinize the surrounding panorama.
That is the only way to view the big picture and where you fit within it. Difficulty is the problem. The University will not help you in the academic sphere: Delineated major programs with set courses of study are not conducive to independent forays.
Student groups can all too often exist solely for the activities they promote. Dorms can be a place where faces are attached to names, but not much substance. These are all great places to start searching, but first you need to find yourself on the map.
Few people told me of the value of solitary soul searching, and I still have trouble doing it from time to time, but actively pursuing myself has great value. It is extremely arduous to spend time alone, because we live in a society where solitude is looked down upon, so here are a few ideas:
ù Learn to play the guitar, even if you have no musical talent at all. Write a few songs, even if you can’t sing and know nothing of poetry. If you can, record them and give them to a friend. Love songs are fantastic.
ù Take a low number of classes for a semester, but grant yourself one credit for every significant book you read. Try to read as many as possible. Many times, graduate students in your field can tell you what books are really worth reading, as opposed to the ones they have to use in their classes.
ù Try to go through a day saying as few words as possible. Don’t be rude or short, but concentrate on simplicity.
ù Finally, my favorite: go to a crowded social gathering, such as a bar. Take with you a pen and a notebook, and once you are there, simply write down what you see and what you think. You’ll be amazed at what you find.
Of course, imaginations should not be limited to this extremely short list. Anything similar will work, because they all have one thing in common: the generation of unique ideas.
Once you start having these weird thoughts, you ask yourself, “Why do I think like this?” and you are well on your way to truly discovering yourself.
Afterwards, you can use the strange ideas that you generated as a pick to break the ice of the people around you. Assault them with songs, quotes, anything else that acts as a catalyst to extra-dimensional thought. Pretty soon, conversations about the weather and office romances turn into conversations about things that make you think. Instead of looking at other people as superficial noise boxes, you will look forward to being engaged in dialogue. Your days will not blend into each other, but will provoke new ideas more often than before.
Too often, I see people who graduate from college no closer to their dreams, passions and beliefs than before. They have plenty of stories about the fun they had while partying, or with a certain student group, but the stories are all they took from their experiences. These people will be far more knowledgeable, but they are so devoid of a sense of themselves that they often seem like computers being programmed with information. Many people leave the University as confused as they were when they came in. They filled their four or five years, certainly, but they didn’t fill themselves.
It is far easier to spend the time now discovering yourself than after you have a job, a career or a family. Remember that the only person you are here for is you, and your happiness counts the most. Spend time with yourself, learn what makes you happy. There is always something, and once you find it, you have the key to a content life. Once that is done, your busy days will end not in exhaustion, but exhilaration.

Nathan Hunstad is a senior in political science. He welcomes comments to [email protected]