The following blog was written by our 15 year-old intern, Anne.
As a little girl, I paged through books and watched movies featuring princesses, jocks, tomboys, nerds, and popular girls. I assumed that when I grew up, I would somehow magically become the type of person I was destined to be. I wondered which category I would fall into. Would I be more like Cinderella or Mulan? Would I be known for being smart or being strong? I was sure that I would eventually find my one thing.
I assumed that choosing which type of person to be was a normal part of growing up. In school, I noticed types of people around me as well as the characters in books and TV shows. I observed different combinations of character traits that went together to create one type of person or another. I wondered if I should be one of the athletic girls and wear a ponytail and running shorts or raise my hand in class more and become known as one of the smart girls.
Should I be known for my sense of style or my sense of humor?
I pictured personalities in neat categories, not unlike bins of different fruits in the store, available for me to peruse and choose which one I liked. By middle school, I was regularly trying on different guises, modelling myself after this character or that person.
I took this approach to finding myself because I am a deeply methodical person. I enjoy organizing my closet and color coding my notes for fun. I wanted self-exploration to be a process that I could approach with a similar system, sampling prospective personality types until I found a fit. So maybe it’s just me; maybe I felt this pressure solely because of my systematic tendencies.
I, however, have a feeling that I am not alone in this misconception. A variety of outside influences contribute to the idea that we should choose to be a certain type of person or be known for one certain thing. Characters in books and movies, because they are often written to be simple and serve a purpose in a story, can make us believe that real people are equally as simple. Sometimes, we see people around us that seem to exhibit one dominant trait and therefore fit neatly into one stereotype. When we are young, adults in our life may encourage us to be a certain type of person because certain traits are considered more successful than others. Maybe we want to control how other people think and talk about us by accentuating one version of ourselves. Perhaps it seems easier to label ourselves as one thing so that we feel as though we know exactly who we are.
I have found that I am far too complicated to be limited to being just one thing. I am not a book character. My personality does not fit into clean categories, but is a complicated mixture of genetics, self expression, experiences, and outside influences. My mission to be one thing was futile because my personality will always be a growing, changing combination of many parts, some satisfying different stereotypes and some too messy to label.
If I could offer advice to other young people facing similar conundrums, I would encourage them to come to peace with the fact that figuring out who you’re going to be will always be hard because labels don’t fit anyone perfectly.