In many ways, my experience in university always came back to explorations of identity.
It was always an important thread in my major, International Relations, and in my personal life as I grew out of my teens and into my twenties.
While I thought that my education would gradually decrease the number of questions I had about the world and about myself, it only added to them—every question I had seemed to be a hydra that spawned more questions as soon as I got an answer.
That being said, I started to feel comfortable defining myself as a university student, because it could easily encompass so many parts of myself. When I graduated, yet another question arose: who am I without university?
Shaping yourself through university
Perhaps more so than an identity in itself, university is a way to structure your identity, a malleable container you can pour yourself into and shape as you see fit.
Whenever I would meet somebody new, the first thing I would usually tell them about myself was that I was a student at UBC. It was an easy way to encapsulate my identity into a few words, and a springboard to discuss everything else about myself, from my academic interests to the people I was friends with to how I spent my free time.
After graduation, the neat order of that structured identity is gone.
It’s a disorienting sensation that can’t quite be recaptured through anything else—no matter how amazing your job is. It’s unlikely it can span as many aspects of your personality as being a university student can.
Though I’m interested in pursuing grad school eventually, I knew I needed some time off. I’d been in school for 18 years straight (including kindergarten) and I wanted to have some different experiences and take some time outside of an academic environment.
Still, it’s forced me to contemplate who I am now as a graduate. Because it’s a new beginning, and such a significant switch in how I live my life, I’ve felt pressure to completely discard the “old” me and craft a new identity entirely in a Don Draper-esque reinvention.
However, just because you’ve lost some of the comforts of UBC doesn’t mean you’ve lost yourself.
Shaping yourself through you
One of the biggest realizations I’ve had since graduation was that I was relying on arguably superficial external situations to define who I was, rather than letting that definition come internally.
These external situations included things like where I was living, what I was studying, and what job I was working. They’re all significant, but they don’t define you. After graduation, you have to be the structure of your own identity, no matter where you are.
There’s going to be ups and downs as you navigate the world after graduation, and sometimes the only constant in your life will be you. It’s important to keep strong relationships with your friends and family, but if opportunities end up taking you to unfamiliar places, a strong sense of self can lead you through anything.
While not being able to channel my identity through being a student anymore was difficult at first, it’s turned into a liberating experience that has allowed me to reconnect with myself and discover a different kind of confidence.
My life is full of uncertainties right now—what is my place in the world going to be?
While each of us may not always be able to control the uncertainties we face, we navigate them more easily if we don’t define ourselves by them. Define yourself by who you are.
What does that mean? It’s probably different for everyone. For me, knowing who I am is an aggregate of my values, past experiences, and ambitions (mixed with a healthy sense of humour).
These are things that are important to me wherever I am and whatever I'm doing. Being a student at UBC was a fantastic part of my life and it remains an important part of my identity, but it’s not how I define myself.
Where you go to school or where you work can’t be the way you structure your identity forever—eventually, it has to come from inside.