When I was a little girl, I would walk down Michigan Avenue admiring all the “older girls,” in their early 20s, comfortable in their own skin, talking to their friends with total abandon – unique styles, thoughts and looks. They knew who they wanted to be, and they were who they wanted to be.
And I began to piece together my image of who I wanted to become. I wanted a vocabulary broad enough to express exactly what I meant. I wanted to walk around with an air that made people respect me. I wanted a signature sense of humor: the quick wit of Tina Fey and the good-natured self-deprecation of Mindy Kaling, with a hint of Jerry Seinfeld-esque Jewish humor for good measure. I collected character traits like I was making a scrapbook of what would hopefully, someday, comprise grown-up Dana.
Turning 20 recently hit me as a turning point. I am no longer a teenager; the awkward years are behind me. So where am I in this process of becoming that person I want to be?
I’m not sure that is a question that can really be answered. I guess we’re all really just enigmas, trying to solve ourselves one day at a time.
But I also saw that as I turned 20, I was so much more aligned with the person I dreamed of becoming than I’d ever been before.
A delightful element of growing up I don’t often hear people my age discuss is that as far as I can see, the older we get, the more who we want to be and who we are converge.
We spend most of our formative years in elementary, middle and high school – a structured educational system putting everyone on virtually the same course: some math, some science and some language and history. Our friends are primarily dictated by the region in which we live and the school we attend. Our vacations, what we watch on TV, our political beliefs, our sense of humor and sense of self are all somewhat contingent upon our families, friends and this arbitrary place we live.
But the older we get, the more freedom we attain and the less systematic our world becomes. We get to college and suddenly we are the ones drawing the blueprint of our everyday lives. We can spend a Thursday night out in the Grove, playing Minecraft in our rooms or having existential chats with our roommates. We can major in American history or never watch a Ken Burns documentary ever again. We can become known for being smart or sociable or artistic. We can really be anything.
And, yes, that freedom can be daunting. We’ve all heard the horror stories of the people that went too far in any one direction. But this freedom can also build character. Without even realizing it, you are becoming that person you wanted to become, possessing those traits you always admired. And who knows, maybe some little kid on the street is walking by you thinking that someday he or she wants to be just like you.
I may not yet have the confidence of a Clinton or the Fey/Kaling/Seinfeld-esque humor I fantasized about, but I’d argue that I grow closer to it with every passing day and infuse some of my own uniqueness in there as well.
So in the midst of all your studying, partying or studying at a party, take a second to think about your identity holistically – and I bet you’ll find that you are morphing into that person you always wanted to be.
And if you’re not, change direction. Who’s stopping you?
Dana Munro is a sophomore majoring in musical theater. Glass Half Full runs every Tuesday.