Navigating Young Adulthood: Figuring Out Who You Are Apart From Your Family

July 3, 2018


One of the most difficult parts of young adulthood is the independence that comes with it. Not only are we beset with more responsibilities as we grow older, but we also learn that self-discovery is an ongoing process. Identity, for instance, transforms in many ways throughout an individual’s lifetime. 


Discovering one’s identity is a cyclical process, constantly changing according to society’s expectations and our own evaluations of ourselves. As children, we are told what to do and what not to do by our parents, guardians, and authority figures. We mold into specific standards set for us by adults without ever questioning why. We learn that we are expected to conform to a certain set of beliefs and truths based on what our authorities tell us. This often leads to a limited understanding of the self. 


It is not until we are young adults in college that we begin to question who we are and critically examine our identities and privileges. As we enter our twenties and allow ourselves to be open to criticism, we not only wonder about how we came to identify as we do, but also see how we are influenced by the world around us. We may realize that the people we call our “friends” are more like frenemies, and we begin to question what we can offer the world as individuals. In other words, we learn to figure out who we are apart from our families and the influences which have surrounded us our entire lives. 


But what does it really mean to “figure ourselves out”? When we think critically about our own identities, beliefs, and ideas, we learn more about ourselves and our motivations. We seek answers to how our family has made us feel a certain way or see issues from a certain perspective. As young adults, we work to identify our own values that may have been instilled in us by our family and immediate surroundings. We allow ourselves to question our own beliefs. Through social interactions, world travels, and news alerts, we begin to figure out our world view and understanding of society. Examining our identities, beliefs, and interests is a stepping stone to learning more about who we are.


Moreover, we take it into our own hands to learn as much as we can about the hidden truths – the facts we were never told as a child. We find answers to the questions that piqued our curiosity as we were growing up. We participate in classes, sports, musical and theatrical groups, and extracurricular activities to find answers, develop our passions, and confirm our likings. Through interactions like conversations and critical social studies, we create our own interpretations of the world based on our understanding and knowledge. We learn to show our support for specific causes that are important to us after asking why we identify with them. We become advocates and allies. We reflect on our identities and examine our privileges, as we struggle to figure out how to bend society’s “rules.”


The journey to figuring ourselves out is one that never ends, for the process of growing up is filled with confusion and self-doubt. I can say from experience that growing up is a roller coaster of emotions. Often, we can become confused because what our family tells us as we are growing up differs from what we learn when we read textbooks, view media, and converse with others outside of our family. We learn to break expectations and grow into strong individuals, often feeling that no one understands us. Sure, you may feel lost on roads that lead nowhere, but I can assure you that you are not alone.


Everyone goes through the process. Coming to terms with who we are is a cycle of trial and error, seeing where we fit and what makes us happy. When you figure out who you are, you will feel like “you,” unforced and comfortable in your skin. 


​Sara Kim graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and a double minor in Health Policy and Management and Asian American Studies from Ithaca College. She currently works as an Event Coordinator at a non-profit. In her free time, she enjoys working out, reading, watching movies, and cooking. Fun fact: as a foodie, she loves to try new foods and travel to new places.

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