(Monika Clarke)
(Monika Clarke) Photo credit: Monika Clarke

Identity is the one thing that will have the biggest affect on our academic journeys and ultimately what our lives will be. Identity is a tricky thing. Our identities are completely ours, yet much of it is decided by others.

There are aspects of our identities that we can control, and other aspects that we cannot. So why are identities so important? How are they shaped? And what can we do to become the person we want to be?

For every one of us, there are defining moments where we are pushed to grow into the next version of ourselves. College is filled with the potential for each student to experience as many levels of growth as one wishes.

A major part of our identity is our understanding of the world. But the things that we believe and the attitudes that we hold about ourselves, other people and the world combine to create a filter through which all the information from our environment has to go through before we come to understand it.

We may miss out on opportunities, judge something or someone incorrectly or not be able to solve a problem all simply because of the way we are thinking. This filter plays a huge part in our understanding of the world, and if it is not something that we already pay attention to, we start to during college and learn to have influence over it.

Then there are some things about our identities that we cannot control. These uncontrollable, defining aspects of our identities include age and the culture, the body and the class or income level that we were born into. It is good to be aware of these aspects and notice how they affect our thoughts. Our thoughts are the genesis of our realities.

Other people have an effect on who we are as well. Our parents, friends, role models and romantic interests all shape who we become. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we pick up the habits and attitudes of the people we spend our time with most.

One thing is sure about identity: It changes and evolves.

As people we are naturally motivated to progress, level-up and become better. So, here are some tips that have proved useful for me over three years of college for experiencing positive growth in identity evolution.

Celebrate successes. Hard work deserves to be rewarded. It can be difficult to remember to celebrate with so much else going on. But taking the time to feel good about a job well done increases happiness and motivation.

Mourn failures. Failing is a part of the process and nothing to be ashamed of. Allowing space to be disappointed will create a more powerful bounce back.

Choose friends wisely and be vulnerable. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Friends should have similar goals and make us feel good.

College can be stressful. Talking about hardship decreases stress, promotes trust and is a vital part of what it means to be human. So much freedom and joy comes from sharing our struggles with other people.

Write a timeline of the past. It is easier to understand where we are and where we are going if we look at where we came from. Create a timeline of important memories and milestones, good and bad, for a better look at who we are now.

Get comfortable with being wrong. Many times, in order to grow, we need to get the things that no longer serve us out of the way. We may have ideas or opinions that will be challenged, and sometimes we will be proved wrong. That is okay. It just means that a better understanding is on its way.

Take responsibility. If everything is everyone else’s fault, control over one’s life is impossible. It is difficult to own our faults and mistakes but an invaluable skill and the first step in crafting what we want. Say it inwardly and say it outwardly: I f***** up. It is liberating.

Treat yourself like a friend. Imagine a friend got a poor grade, got fired from a job or made a mistake. We would not try to make our friend feel worse. We would be gentle, patient and understanding. When we treat ourselves with the same compassion we are happier and more productive.

Encourage others. Noticing what other people do and letting them know that we see it promotes community and positivity. We all need safety and security to succeed.

The process of becoming who we are will look different for everyone. But no matter what direction a person wants to go, practicing even one or two of these tips will help people experience positive growth for evolving into the student and person that she or he wants to be. Growing into ourselves is what college is all about.

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