The Millennial Search for Identity

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“The fact of being who a person is”

When researching the topic of identity, I came upon this disappointing definition. I was hoping for something a little more specific, but soon realized that the concept of identity is not an easy one to explain as it can mean something different for everyone. “Who am I?” is a question humans have been asking themselves for centuries, and is one that can have many answers.

I remember going to a new school in the 4th grade. I was a shy kid, but eager to make new friends. Back then, the only social networking site available was the playground, where content of character was measured by how hard you went in the dirt. If you wanted to talk to or hang out with a friend outside of school, you memorized their phone number and walked to their house. If you were bored, you explored the neighborhood. It was a peaceful, private existence.

Fast forward 15 years. Everyone has smart phones, and Facebook rules the social media world. People have multiple online profiles where they can share life events, upload pictures, and connect with friends and strangers all over the world. There are endless ways to interact and communicate, whether through texting, Skype, Instagram, Snapchat, Voxer, or even online social games. Anyone that didn’t have a voice before now has a chance to be heard.

Though we are fortunate to have much more convenient means of communicating and reaching each other, it does not come without a price. Privacy is such an issue, that even with the availability of “privacy settings”, nothing you post online will ever truly be private. Plus, everyone (well at least everyone on your friends list) can see you, your pictures, what you’re doing, what you like, and nearly everything about you. As you are propelled into the spotlight, you might lose sight of yourself and who you really are. Are you the person you portray yourself to be online? Do you even know who you really are, offline, in person?

In an article published by Deseret News, Rachel Lowry explores this struggle and how it has particularly been affecting Generation Y.

“1 out of 4 Millennials say they can only be their true self when alone.”

Whether you are going to work, school, or just hanging out with friends, you put on a different face. The person you are at work, especially if you work in a very professional environment, can be much different than the person you are when you are with close friends or family. In addition to that, you may also have a separate online identity that doesn’t fully correspond to your other identities. With Facebook, for example, you can tell people what you want them to know, withhold what you don’t want them to know, and show them what you want them to see.

 “Only half of Millennials surveyed believed themselves to be authentic and real.”

Although some people may remain authentic and true to themselves, it is easy to get caught up with “likes” and building up a flattering image. No one wants to appear boring or uninteresting. As a result, it’s becoming more and more difficult to know who is telling the truth, and if people really are who they say they are. I know that I personally have talked to people online and when I met them in person, they didn’t turn out to be who I imagined them to be. Sometimes, they don’t even look how you thought they would look. It all becomes very confusing, so what do we do about it?

If you are a Millennial like me, I understand your hardship. As I described earlier, we never had any of this technology when we were young, and then were suddenly expected to change with the times.  Social networks have become like a drug to us as we constantly search for acceptance and inclusion. The popularity contests of high school have carried over into our adult lives.

“Perhaps we should lift our eyes from our screens more often and live the lives we are purporting.”

This is the best way to go about your journey of self-discovery. Do not just spend time talking about your hopes and dreams, go out and follow them! Instead of spending all of your time taking pictures and uploading them to Instagram and Facebook, experience what you are seeing and doing and embrace the feelings it gives you. It’s great to have memories, but work on accumulating memories that no one can see or feel but you. Memories that you can dig up from your mind and feel all over again because you were fully aware and present during those moments. Get out of your comfort zone and do something you have never done before. Open your mind to new possibilities. Then, after you’ve got that out of your system, feel free to share your experiences and newly acquired knowledge with friends.

Identity isn’t about trying to be who you wish you could be, but how you go about being the person that you are. Every action you take and every decision you make reflects on your character and your personality. In order to be satisfied with your identity, it is important to always stay true to your values and do what you think is right. Maintaining the right balance is not uncomplicated, but at those moments you do find it, hold on as long as you can. Never be afraid to be yourself and to take the less trodden path, you might never know what new things you might discover about yourself. As they say, life is what you make it.