The Counseling Center: Let’s talk about… thoughts on identity exploration

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I venture to guess that your identity has changed a lot since starting college. Even if this is your first year at Pacific University, if you take a moment to reflect on who you are now compared to who you were before coming to campus, I imagine you could see a difference. 

Identity exploration is an evolving process of understanding who you are as a person. It encompasses your professional life in regards to what you’ll be when you grow up and your personal life in regards to the kinds of relationships you embrace and who you look for, if anyone, in a partner. 

It encompasses how you see yourself, what is important to you (i.e. your values and priorities), what you spend your time doing, and even where you live geographically.

Identity exploration is a journey that can be a wonderful and fulfilling experience! Although I think it would be misleading not to mention that sometimes it may feel like you took a wrong turn and found yourself on uneven terrain or lost the path you were on entirely. 

Oh, did I forget to mention that no one gives you a map for this journey we’re all expected to take? Seems rather rude. 

Feeling lost and uncertain can be pretty scary. So, what does it mean if you feel like you’re in the middle of the woods, without a map, road, or stars to navigate by? 

Well, it means you’re doing something right because most of us have been there too. Here are some possible tips as you navigate this journey of self-exploration.

Find groups where you’re able to dive into the different parts of your identity you’re interested in exploring. Finding new groups can be an excellent opportunity to discover potential hobbies and interests that expand your identity. 

Some groups can help develop your professional identity, and other groups can create an environment that allows you to explore your sexual or gender identity with other potentially like-minded individuals.

Speaking of other like-minded individuals, creating a social support network can help ease some of the burden that can come with identity exploration. 

This journey of self-exploration is lifelong and no one is expected to go through it alone. Finding others who are delving into similar parts of their own selves can help ease some growing pains that may come with the process.

Consider finding a trusted mentor who has already cultivated a similar area of identity. For example, contacting someone who already has your dream job could be a great opportunity to develop parts of your professional identity as you work through your undergraduate degree. 

I know, your schedule is packed so this seems like a pipedream of a suggestion, but don’t forget that email could be a possible means of contact with potential mentors! 

The most important thing to remember during your journey of self-exploration is to keep growing. New experiences foster meaningful parts of our identity and some parts of our identity do not fit within other groups or people – they are unique to us and make us individuals. 

Our navigation through these experiences is how we discover who we are in life. The story you are building about who you are as a person is unique to you and you get to decide who is welcome beside your campfire to hear your tale. 

This exploration continues throughout our lives, but it does get easier as we fine tune our navigation tools and find solid ground that feels like home. And remember, while this journey may be one we have to make on our own, having fellow travel companions always makes the journey easier. 

There are services available on campus if the road ever becomes too bumpy or perilous, or the map you’re creating becomes unreadable. 

All students are welcome to contact the Student Counseling Center at 503-352-2191 to set up an appointment. 

Walk-in sessions are available Monday through Friday at noon for urgent care without an appointment. Safe travels!


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