Advice for getting through the mid-twenties identity crisis?
April 25, 2011 1:44 PM   Subscribe

What has helped you get through the identity crisis that sometimes occurs in your twenties/thirties? What has helped you form your sense of who you are as an entity separate from your parents/schooling?

TL;DR (Abstract-style, up top): Little sense of self due to adapting self in order to please others. Looking for advice on figuring out who I am beneath all that, and anecdotes about how others have done the same.

I've been going through a lot of therapy over the last several months, and have come to the realization that I have no idea who I am. I've spent most of my life adapting to others - my parents mostly - and I was exceedingly good at it. I never lied, I was a perfect student, perfect son, perfect everything. I figured out how to replace emotions; if I came home angry at someone, and it would be more acceptable to feel compassion for them, then I would meditate, stop feeling angry, and start feeling compassion.

This, as can be expected, came crashing down a few years ago (or, more accurately, has been in a slow motion collapse for a few years), and I'm starting to get to the ugly bottom of it, which is that if I prune away all of the stuff about myself that's just there to be more acceptable to others, then I can't find much of anything left down there. I don't even have an answer to "How do I feel about X?", because I'm not even sure what real emotions feel like, having spent so much time erasing (/suppressing) them, and acting out more positive ones.

So my question to the hivemind is this: How do you figure out who you are? What does an answer to the question 'Who are you?' even look like? Have you found mirrors in your life (friends, hobbies, psychological tests, whatever) that have enabled you to see an image of yourself and say "Oh! That's me!"

(Disclaimers: I know you're not my therapist. I have one of those, but think it might be useful to hear about other people's struggles with identity, and how they got through those)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 72 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps I'm applying my own family situation to yours, but it sounds like you were a pleaser, putting others before you. And maybe most of what you did wasn't really that big of a deal - let others decide the little things, because they're little. But then it becomes hard to stand up for yourself when you want to, because you don't want to upset anyone. So start small: take a stand on decisions with friends and family, like when to meet, where to go, what you want to eat. It may sound silly, but that can help a lot. Don't fight people when it doesn't matter to you, but if people are being soft about details, become the decider. Should you meet at 10 or 11am? Declare 10AM!

But if you're stuck on what makes up you, try things out, check the paper for events and just go. Talk to people at new places. If you're working somewhere that doesn't seem to fit who you are, don't worry. Work is not your personality, it's what you do during the day. It's great if your work can somewhere that is a clear reflection of who you are, but sometimes it's just a job.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:03 PM on April 25, 2011 [5 favorites]

Well... I guess I have had the opposite problem, where I couldn't not be myself. But this stood out to me: if I came home angry at someone, and it would be more acceptable to feel compassion for them, then I would meditate, stop feeling angry, and start feeling compassion.

You're talking about meditation as though it were a Pepto-Bismol, meant to suppress feelings and conflicts instead of address them. If you've been using meditation as a way to (basically) lie to yourself for years, you might want to use a different technique to start telling yourself the truth.
posted by tel3path at 2:06 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Spend time alone. Expose yourself to as wide a variety of unfamiliar situations as possible. Visit new places, learn new things, hang out with strangers, and your true self will begin to emerge as a constant.
posted by milk white peacock at 2:19 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should do as many different activities as possible. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and see how you react. Take a big trip to a foreign land, of just move to a different state and see how it suits you.

Do the opposite of everything you've been told to do. Be a bad student and stop giving a shit about what people think. Allow yourself to feel angry for not knowing who you are. Think of all the years you wasted, but think of all the years you've saved.

Also, do some hallucinogenic drugs, like weed or mushrooms or drink alcohol and see how it makes you feel.
posted by garuda at 2:22 PM on April 25, 2011 [6 favorites]

As someone who had similar problems at one point, I think filthy light thief has it right. Just start making decisions. Don't worry about if they're the right decisions or not. Just start making some. As you make decisions, the picture of the sort of person you are will emerge over time from the decisions you make.
posted by yeolcoatl at 2:26 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

This helped me feel less dumb for entering my 30s with a flawed "thesis." Because everyone does.
posted by Victorvacendak at 2:34 PM on April 25, 2011

Go do things. Over time, you will accumulate enough experience to start having opinions. It takes a lot of practice so you will have to go do a lot of things, but that's okay.

You really do just have to go try identities on until you start differentiating between good for you and not good or not interesting. Try out golf and environmental activism and poetry and construction and dance classes. Pretend to be things you currently are not. Pretend not to be things you currently are. Make sure you get exposed to lots of different kinds of people. After some exposure, you'll actually have data you can use to say "I feel more inclined to X than Y. I like Z. Turns out I'd been pretending to hate B but I don't."

This isn't the last time you'll have to do this, either. It comes around at least once a decade that you will start wanting to grow and change and be more you, so jump in with both feet now before you miss this round.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:46 PM on April 25, 2011 [7 favorites]

I went through a period in my twenties where I realized that I was rather different from who I used to think I was. I attributed it to being away from my parents for several years by that point - my parents had a huge influence on my behavior, attitudes, and self-image. I felt like I was an instar shedding my old exoskeleton and emerging in a new form. (OK, a little dramatic, but I had recently taken some developmental biology classes and I liked the image.)

In addition to being on my own for a while, I also started to try new things. I was in graduate school and the university offered some free extracurricular activities like an Outdoors Club, so I tried rock climbing, cross-country skiing, caving, and other stuff. A friend who knew I'm a klutz egged me on with good humor and affection. Now, I am the least athletic person on the planet and I was pretty sure I would hate this stuff but I figured I needed to try it before I could honestly tell my friend I hated it and he could go stick it where the sun don't shine. And sure enough I did indeed suck at it and hated some of it, but sometimes it was fun even though I was terrible at it. More importantly, I realized I was more adventurous than I thought and trying something new can be a lot of fun, even if I suck at it.

When I was living with my parents I was very timid (for a whole bunch of family history reasons), and we never did anything challenging or new as a family, which reinforced my timidity. On my own, without that reinforcement, it felt like the "real me" was able to emerge: I couldn't afford to be timid when I had to be a grownup and solve my own problems. Add the kick in the butt from that cheeky good-hearted twerp of a friend, and the last bits of timid parent-pleasing me sloughed off like an instar becoming an imago.


Step 1 is to move out on your own and take responsibility for your life (health, finances, career, the whole enchilada).

Step 2 is to find some friends who will affectionately kick your butt to try new things, or kick your own butt.

Step 3 is to see which things you enjoy, and connect the dots to draw a new picture of yourself.

Step 4 is to repeat Steps 2 and 3 for the rest of your life.

Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 3:12 PM on April 25, 2011 [9 favorites]

okay, I know that most people (even myself included) would consider this a cheesy self-help book but it actually helped me immeasurably.

I'm kind of paraphrasing the book as I understand it, but basically you sit down and write your core principals/values/what's important to you. The author's core principal/values revolve around god, but I don't think that it has to be god.

You start my writing down what you want to achieve in life. What is it that when you die, you'd like to have achieved. For example, let's say before you die you'd like to keep a healthy body, do some kind of community service, get a master's degree, have a family, and achieve x, y, and z in your career. Well, you write all of it down and kind of create a master plan, which he calls your core or principal values.

Then when you make a decision, you ask yourself: will doing x be in keeping with my core values/master plan.

The idea is that at various times in our life we are "parent-centered" or "friend-centered" or "spouse-centered" or even "work-centered" and we make decisions to please one particular person or achieve one goal and that's not really healthy. And it's better to have a balanced view of what you'd like to achieve in life and then when you need to make a decision (from how should I spend the next hour? to should I take this job?) you are able to do so in a way that takes into account what you would like to do with your life.

I'm not really describing it right, but it really was helpful to me.
posted by bananafish at 3:20 PM on April 25, 2011

You may need to take a break from your parents, if you're still seeing or communicating with them on a regular basis. Surround yourself with pleasure, animals, sunshine, people that laugh a lot and people that have clear boundaries and who you can trust.

Do whatever you have to do to stop feeling guilty for not taking care of everybody else. This will feel weird. Just keep seeking out things you like or might like and over time you will start to find your own self. Don't be impatient-- I started this process four years ago at 25 and I'm still finding myself.
posted by Rocket26 at 3:42 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I went through a similar thing at 23 - was completely unhappy in my marriage for 2 years already, but trying to fake it until I make it, be little miss perfect, maybe things will get better... and I also felt like I had no identity apart from him anymore either since we started dating when I was 17, before university. I wasn't an individual anymore, which was a crippling feeling. When I was given the opportunity to go to Japan for a year of work (sans hubby), I took it. It taught me a lot about myself, how to be self-confident, and how my happiness matters just as much as anyone else's.

It started with having to scrape together the courage to do things like take the train or go shopping without knowing hardly any Japanese (spoken or written) - immensely rewarding. Then I came out of my shell and worked on making new friends. Meeting a lot of different people with widely varied interests and backgrounds, I figured out bit by bit what also interests me, how I react to things, what my opinions are, etc. And because I might never see any of these people again, I didn't worry about their judging me, or my having to keep up appearances. I also did a lot of self-reflection in journals during that time. So I ended up with friends I truly felt comfortable around, and enough courage to stand my ground and accept the consequences when going into the divorce.

I don't know if your circumstances allow for you to just get away from it all for a good long while (like at least a couple of months), but adventure's greatest pleasure has to be discovering who you are and what you're made of.
posted by lizbunny at 4:00 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I spent most of my life (I am 25) thinking I was an introvert. I did personality tests and always picked answers that portrayed introvertedness. As it turns out, I finally realized that I am actually fairly extroverted and I love being around people. I just had poor social skills and was generally an anxious person, which had masked my extrovert traits.

How did I figure this out? Well, it wasn't that I had wanted to change or that I thought I needed change; rather, I was placed in a very stressful situation (halfway around the world from family and friends, permanent job which meant I was stuck there for a couple of years; no expat culture to ease the transition) and I couldn't just rely on my little comfort zone that I had built up for myself. Adding to that, I was fresh out of a painful breakup, so I tried everything to forget the pain. I hate to sound cliche, but when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. I really found my true self when my usual support systems were removed.
posted by moiraine at 4:34 PM on April 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't see the problem here, you seem to have a perfectly good handle on who you are: a person deeply invested in how others perceive you.

It sounds like you don't like who you are. Why not? Is it because you're afraid of how people perceive that kind of person? If you stopped being that, you would be doing it for them.

The most important thing to realize is that you don't actually know how others perceive you, and you're impression that you do is a fantasy. In reality, you're assigning them beliefs and attitudes and expectations that you think they have for you.

You can easily find out who you really are by writing down everything that other people want from you, and replacing all the instances of "they" - they want, they expect, they demand - with "I". If you don't want to do those things any more, then stop.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:44 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

If travel is not an option, spend time with people who don't know the "old" you, so you are free to just be - make some friends via meetup or whatever.

Test out your assumptions about yourself. Periodically, I will stop doing all my regular activities to see if I miss them - I want to know that I'm still doing x because I like it, rather than because "it's what I do". Try out the activities you're pretty sure you wouldn't like and see if it's true. Do (healthy, safe) things you "would never do", like chat up a girl/guy you think is cute on the train. If you've done it once, you are no longer "not the kind of person who could do that". It's quite liberating and exhilarating! Have fun!
posted by Chrysalis at 4:46 PM on April 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

I identify a lot with what you wrote. I grew up doing my best to be exactly the child my parents wanted/needed and realized in my 20s that I had little idea who I actually was or what my real emotions were. Therapy and meditation helped enormously. Therapy mostly helped me identify my patters and start practicing being open and spontaneous with another person, while meditation helped me learn to fully experience my emotions.

Basically, I learned to feel my feelings. I learned to recognize what angry felt like, what sad felt like, what happy felt like. Different emotions feel different ways in your body. Happy might make you feel filled with warmth. Scared might make your stomach hurt. You'll find out what it is for yourself. After I learned to recognize my emotions, I could observe to find out what made me feel angry or sad or happy. I had to start really concrete, thinking to myself things like, "my stomach felt upset when I agreed to work late tonight, so I think I didn't actually want to do that even though I agreed to." After a while it became automatic.

I think a helpful place for you to start might be inviting yourself to pay attention to how you feel now about having adapted to other people's needs your whole life and not really knowing who you are. Let yourself feel whatever it is you feel. Angry? Sad? Scared? Hopeful? Even if it's a tiny sliver of a feeling. Even if you don't know what to call it. Just let it happen. Remember that whatever you feel, you don't necessarily have to act on it. Just feel it. If you want to, write a story about it or write a song about it or draw a picture about it. I think that'll help you start to feel your feelings in general.

You'll find out who you are. You just need to give yourself time. Be gentle with yourself in the process. It's a journey that calls for courage and kindness.

Besides therapy and meditation, two resources that I found helpful were:

- the idea of the "drama triangle" in which people act as either the Rescuer, Persecutor, or Victim. I couldn't have been more of a rescuer and it sounds like you are too. Reading about it really helped me identify specific ways I could change my actions:

- The Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller. It's weird in some ways and I'm no psychologist to assess it, but it had a lot of useful ideas for me. By "gifted children," she means children who are capable of meeting their parents' emotional needs.

I wish you the best.
posted by zahava at 5:09 PM on April 25, 2011 [6 favorites]

Ok, so here's the thing. If you want to be an adult and find yourself, you need to drop this notion that there is something to find. You are who you are - period. That isn't going to change. How you frame things may change, but not who you really are.

Why did you want to please someone else? Was it really for their benefit? Or was their approval and gold star what you were looking for? In one scenario, you are selfless. In the other scenario your narcissistic. As with most things, there's truth in both. Why does that matter? Well, because if you stop pleasing people and focus on yourself - you may find that you are NOT working on the problems that you think you are working on, and instead perpetuating them further. What that also means, is if you actually like pleasing people - for whatever reason - continue to do so. Pleasing people may not be the problem. The problem may be that you are unhappy with your actual motives.

For me, there was no hobby, no friend, no mental construct that made me me. I like climbing, but hey - my weekends need to involve trips to BJs to fulfill the suburban dream and the library with my son. I like mountaineering, but I think I'll be taking a trip to Disney with my family before I get to drop the same amount to take myself up Athabasca. I haven't worried about pleasing my parents... ever - well not since I was sixteen - but I do value their counsel and input on my large life decisions. My dream of being a big-time whatever was tempered when I realized that it would require a sacrifice of X,Y, and Z things that I think are too important to give up. I'm cool with that - I'm much more into being a pretty decent whatever instead of a big-time whatever.

So basically, get secure with what you are inside and what you want out of life - and expect to be willing to let it go once you find out what is really important.
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:13 PM on April 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

Contact the parents less for a while. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy concepts helped me:

Cognitive "Defusion"
Contact with the Present Moment
Committed Action
Acceptance and Willingness

Also, do lots of writing, make lots of lists, throw them away, and make some more: ideas, dreams, wants, plans, goals, likes, dislikes, what your looking for romantically, dream job... If something on a list is painful to write or painful to even think about, bring it up in therapy.
posted by zeek321 at 5:23 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh man, also:

Insane book, handle with care, but things will happen really fast (and possibly really painfully) if you play with the ideas in this book.
posted by zeek321 at 5:25 PM on April 25, 2011

You ask a broad question, how to figure out what you like and who you are, but it's kind of ironic, because you're saying that you want to stop performing according to other established methodologies. So, the real question is: how do YOU figure out who you are? I'd ask yourself this question, and accept whatever answer you get, however simple or strange.*

It does sound like you've identified one piece of your approach already -- learning to feel your real feelings. I think that's a great approach. Some potentially helpful resources: find therapists with a somatic or body-oriented approach (it can be easier to notice "my stomach hurts" than to realize "I feel angry"), lists of emotions, the book Healing through the Dark Emotions, the book Focusing (its approach summarized here), friends who support you in having real feelings (e.g., who don't respond to your anger with "calm down" but with "yeah, i'd be furious! what are you going to do?"), and Non-Violent Communication seminars to practice expressing your emotions assertively.

* One book about someone designing her own path of self-discovery is the Dance of the Dissident Daughter. But it's in the context of a woman's rebellion from her Christian upbringing, so I don't know if the majority of the content is relevant to you.
posted by salvia at 5:39 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm 22. This is what I've decided: don't ask "Who am I?" That's the wrong question. Instead ask "Who do I want to be?" Then go out and be that person.

If you don't know who that person is, then you'll need to figure it out. The best way to do this is through trial and error. Open up the filter between your brain and your mouth; just say stuff, whatever you feel like saying. If you say something and then feel bad about it, make a mental note not to say that kind of thing again. Do stuff that seems fun and interesting*; again, if you regret it, just make sure not to do that thing again. Meet lots of new people. Say things to them and do things with them. If you decide you don't like them, or being around them makes you feel bad, then meet different people. Let your emotions run a little wild: get hopping mad over political arguments, laugh at every joke you see, and cry your heart out at the end of movies.

This is all easier said than done, I know, but you can't develop a personality through introspection alone. This isn't about digging down through layers and layers to find some unmovable kernel of self; the self is not a kernel. The self is a filter, a way of deciding what to do and what to not do. You can't refine the filter without, well, doing stuff and seeing what happens, seeing whether you like it or not. And this is good! Doing stuff is fun! It's educational! It's what life is all about!

Deliberately filtering your actions and words might seem fake at first, like you're wearing a mask, but really, we're all wearing masks all the time. That is the human condition. The way you be honest about it is by making sure you're always wearing a mask that you like. If you don't like the mask, the filter, the self, then change it! Start acting differently! It really is that simple (even if it's not that easy).

So go out there and do some stuff! Say some things! And most of all, have fun!

*Provided it won't hurt other people or totally screw you over in the future; don't knock over a 7-11 just because it seemed like a laugh. Do use some sense.
posted by Commander Rachek at 7:03 PM on April 25, 2011 [11 favorites]

How are you different than your parents?

What are your dreams for yourself if you could do or be anything you want?

What are you curious about that you haven't tried?

What do you need from your closest friends?
posted by conrad53 at 7:47 PM on April 25, 2011

I liked filthy light thief's thoughts on this. I'm similar to you (I think), in that I want to make people happy, don't want to rock the boat, etc. To help me make a few small changes, I've declared 2011 as The Year I Grow A Pair. Any time I'm given two options — one that's easier and less boat-rocky, and one that's more difficult but might end up with me in a better place than I started — I force myself to take the more difficult route. (Example: I debated deleting this post without posting it, but realized that'd be the easy path. So I'm posting it.)

In a similar (but possibly douchier) vein, there's rejection therapy.

FWIW, I also think Commander Rachek's "act like the person you want to become" is really good, too.
posted by Alt F4 at 8:39 PM on April 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

When a parent or same-age close friend dies, that really is a defining moment - that intense realization that tomorrow is never coming for you and that person again, and your own mortality is starkly present.

The end of a long-term relationship is another of these self-defining moments. Accomplishing a Major Early Life Goal is a positive example; once you've gotten your grad degree/first great job/bought a house or whatever you're like... FUCK, I CLIMBED THE MOUNTAIN. Now what? It's how you digest that post-accomplishment letdown internally that can drive you forward or allow you to finally relax and enjoy your life.

That usually happens around 30; you pay off student loans or get engaged or have a kid and think, ok yeah, did I plan past this? And sometimes the answer is, no, and then you start the journey of true self-discovery.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:04 PM on April 25, 2011

Try listening to some Rammstein.

If not Rammstein, then try listening to any powerful music until you finally find something that stirs something powerful within you. You grew up putting other people's feelings first, which means you learned to tune out from yours long ago. You learned to ignore your feelings; you never learned (much) how to recognize and express them, because you're so used to not expressing you. But that doesn't mean they're not there... they're just long unrecognized. A powerful influence like music that works for you will help them become loud enough for you to notice.

My data point: the only acceptable emotion my parents wanted to see from me as a child was calm, which was a formidable task in the dysfunctional environment I grew up in. The dysfunctional part means that there were a lot of injustices I never got to express any emotion about (except for calm) without experiencing neglect. Insanely powerful child emotions of hurt and anger got filed away somehow, tucked in a pile of neurons somewhere. Then in my mid-20s, also while in therapy, I discovered this music that stirred those emotions within me - emotions that I didn't realize I possessed. Therapy was still vital to my progress, but it never connected me with my feelings quite like music did.

For me, anger was the key, and now I'm using other types of music to help recognize even more emotions that are present within me (ex. bhangra for cheerful, hindi for romantic).

Depending on your history, YMMV. Chances are you have been emotionally experiencing life all along... you're simply still unaware of it. Hopefully therapy will continue to bring down barriers to realizing that experience.

Also, seconding a little weed, if the above advice appeals to you.
posted by human ecologist at 9:07 PM on April 25, 2011

My life has found me, mostly, if and when I've been found. I don't know why books, reading, writing have given me what they have, the joy in that for me, but it is there. I don't know why television just dropped off the table for me, fell out of my world, but it did; truth be told, I think it correlates to the reading thing, and then the movie thing, too. I don't have the slightest idea why colors have captured me as they have, I'm not so good at painting (fact of the matter is that I think I'm great at it but I'm not going to tell you that, not here nor anywhere else, as I'm pretty goddamn shy about it, and I've only ever painted with just a few other people, and only those close to me have seen what I do) but I love it, and more than anything else I like to do on any trip I love love love going to museums and galleries.

I'm from a blue-collar family, raised in it, I only had field trip in maybe third grade to The Art Institute, that's all I knew of it mostly, then one day I went down there with my father and younger brother -- I was in my early 20s I guess -- and my father showed me a little bit of how Monet snaps into focus about four steps away from the canvas, and I flat fell in love with Monet, and Renior, and Van Gogh, they're so easy to love, that amazing painting of that old gal by Van Gogh was/is so goddamn cool, it really caught me, stuck in me still, and I remembered like yesterday that huge pointillist canvas "Sunday in the Park with Melvin" or whatever it is (I know it's George, I'm just having fun) from that field trip when I was a kid, and so then when I lived in the city I started going to the museum all the time and then when I went back to Houston I LIVED at those museums and hey, it's who I am. It found me. Called me to it.

And friends, well, people who aren't interested in the things I'm interested in, we just don't have much to talk about, and people who are interested in what I'm talking about -- why, I want them for my friends! That one comes together pretty easily, for me anyways. Unlucky in love, but friends, you betcha.

What the others have said about traveling and/or moving, so as to find yourself in a place where your life can find you, that all seems a fit to me. We are all shaped by our families and early experiences profoundly but who we are is in there, it is absolutely in there, and it maybe can/will come out when it has more room to breathe.

And trust life to bring to you who you will need, who you will need and want; one of the best pieces about life that I got from Marcus Aurelius* "Love nothing but that which comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny. For what could more aptly fit your needs?" And maybe there is just all kinds of things that come in life and we just see more clearly whatever is most suited to us, who knows. But don't chase it down, don't run after butterflies, hold your damn hand out and let them land on you, if they're going to.
* Get yourself a copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius; myself, I'm awfully partial toward the translation by Maxwell Staniforth, as Mr. Marc comes through so warm under Staniforth's pen, I've found him dry as dust in some other translations, which actually sortof pains me; I hate to think of anyone sitting down with Marcus and not being able to be with this warm, wry person. Buy two of them if you're the kind of person who doesn't like to mark up their books -- this book is to be used. I've had one in my glove box of every pickup I've owned since 1981, I'll read when I'm waiting for whatever or just sitting in a park on a pretty day. And you can find your friends, too, who likes to read Marc with you, and laugh at the absolute impossibilities of trying to live life as Marc suggests it's to be lived -- Matthew and I have howled over it, driving down this road or that one, I'd be pounding on the steering wheel, annoyed at how lame I am, that I so often can't be who I'd want to be, how ridiculous life is, etc and etc, laugh til we cry. As is said here, mostly in jest but not here --> Good times.

I staggered to Texas, running from a divorce, running from my crazy family, running from my goddamn mirror. Running *for* my life, trying to keep that shotgun out of my mouth. I had no idea I was running, not from my life nor for my life nor to it, I didn't know any of that when I got here, I only knew I got here, and probably wasn't even sure that, or much else. So many get to Texas running from, and not running toward, and Texas is awfully forgiving in that way, everybody is a wreck and the best people here know it, and cop to it. Anyways. Texas, which was absolutely a retreat, in a rout, it's turned out to be pretty damn sweet, esp once I got here to Austin -- also just luck, btw, couldn't find a job in Houston and found one in Austin, which is the exact reverse of how life usually goes, everybody wants to live here in Austin, not there in Houston, and you can't blame them. Trust life.

btw, the way you've found to deal with stress -- meditation, forgiveness, acceptance -- these are really, really good things to have, you're lucky to have found them and to have the ability to use them. As noted by someone upthread, you can use these things to live a lie, 'tis true, you can use these tools to bury your urges/emotions/whatever. But -- you can also use these tools to still your urges/emotions/whatever, and then in that calm quiet you'll be easier able to see what is important to you, and what is a lie, and what is the truth, and how to get there, if and when you can.

Sister Theresa didn't set out to be "Sister Theresa" so much as she just set out to be herself. (Using her cuz she's famous, there's zillions more out there did same as she did, just followed their feet.) Bill Gates didn't set out to be "Bill Gates -- The Anti-Christ!!" he just set out walking, using his very own feet and his very own personality to be who he is. Again, just using him as someone you and I both know about; the butcher down the street maybe the same, the guy who sews your suit at the repair shop maybe the same, etc and etc, and even if his parents sewed suits, hey, who knows, maybe it's what he likes, too.

The only problem would be trying to make himself like sewing suits, sounds like that's what you're trying to make sure you don't do, and I say to move to NYC, or Boise Idaho, or some podunk spot in the road in the wilds of Canada, wear flannel and scratch yourself, see if you like it, and if not why not.

So move, or travel -- I went to Paris with a friend, she'd won a trip there, was going through a divorce and didn't want to take just any mope she'd met, she knew I dreamed of going there; we agreed that I'd be the tour guide, which I was all about anyways. Plus we visited a friend of mine in London; I got the airlines to change the tickets to fly into London, home from Paris. We went to Paris for five days, I stayed for eighteen and didn't want to leave when I did. Claw marks on the airport floors, spent every dime I had and went way into debt and it was worth every dime, I may never get back again, right?

First day after my friend left and I'm there on my own, everything's up in the air, I checked into this sleazy little dive -- had an elevator about the size of a shoe -- I took a nap, woke up late afternoon to go to the Picasso museum, went to the little market across the street from that hotel, bought some fruit you'd pay four hundred million dollars for here in the US -- that shit had never even HEARD of any of the poisons we spray on every goddamn thing we eat, that fruit was sweet as could be, apricots big as tubas and sweet sweet sweet -- and some cheese and water, shoved it all in my bag, started walking. A young woman was walking out of a building next to the market -- probably wearing a beret and eating a baguette, though I'm not sure on that, she did have brown hair and pretty brown eyes, THAT I am sure of.

And I of course said hello, and she said hello, turns out it's an design school, it'd be a better story if I said it was an art school but it wasn't, we chatted a minute, or two, maybe three, and I said "Well, I gotta scoot, to get to that museum on time" and she says "No, no, that museum isn't open late tonight" and I said it was and she was right of course, ended up that together we went to the Pompidou, which *was* open late that night, and we had an absolute blast, we loved so many of the same painters, and I loved this painter she didn't know and she loved that painter that I didn't know, and so she showed me hers and I showed her mine -- so to speak -- and we both think that Kandinsky was amazing, and we both think that when he moved into those geometric shapes he did it because he got scared, that painting so free as he had been painting shook him, and that those shapes were a dang retreat, and almost certainly we're full of shit, and someone here on mefi will set me straight quick, probably Kandinsky's niece or something will sign up, she'll pay her five bucks just to tell us all what a dumbo I am, and then Jessamyn will probably give her back her money, just because, but anyways it's what I thought and think and what my new friend thought, too.

And we went to a Woody Allen flick one night, and it had *English* sub-titles, and *I* was the one who didn't need them -- cool. We went to a couple restaurants she liked, some cafe one afternoon, and in that cafe there was a poster for the movie Delicatessen, and I said something, just saying, what a great flick it was/is, and she grabbed my arm, she literally squealed "You know Delicatessen? Oh, you are a *good* American!" I'll always love her for that.

I wish I could tell you that I got into her shorts but she was quite proper, at least with me, dang it, A Serious Catholic she was, a sadness, for me anyways. Wouldn't it have been great to be in some hotel room -- I did get to a bit nicer hotel, and it did have a bitty terrace, too -- wouldn't it have been great for me to be able to stand brooding in the open doorway, looking out into the mists as she languished on the bed after Love, a look of deep satisfaction on her face... sigh... But I'm not Lance Romance, I'm no Dream Date or whatever, just another mope staggering down the road. I'm ever so grateful I met her, and got to see her Paris.

I am *so* going on. Jesus. I told you all that to tell you this: I don't think you can really plan this thing. Personality tests? Pffft... Hogwash. Seems that you've learned what you can through your formal education, and that you're lucky to have gotten it. Seems -- from my seat in the house anyways -- seems your parents have launched you well; you seem a decent, thoughtful human being. Get you a copy of The Meditations. (Or not -- get you a copy of whatever life sets into your hands, right? But since I'm writing this, The Meditations.) Pray if you believe in it, and maybe if you don't, it doesn't need to be some big Jesus-y thing, you don't need to roll around with hosannas or whatever, just say hi, call home as it were. Travel. Paris is a natural, but that's my story, my life, and not yours -- maybe you *hate* the movie Delicatessen. But travel anywhere that you don't speak the language, hey, it's good, as long as you're safe, maybe if you're not; you'll find out that your bad-neighborhood radar is good across culture/language/whatever, or I did anyways. Love is hard and it's beautiful and it's sticky and it's hot and wet and it's good, it's good, it's the best there is. But it's cold, too, and brutal and bloody, it can be fucking gruesome, it'll find you where you live. I think of that hook from that old song -- Nowhere to run, baby / nowhere to hide But it's the only game in town. Be respectful in love, hard as you can, be a citizen, regardless you get your feelings hurt or not, just leave if things get bad, walk tall; be as decent as you can even if/when things go south; you treat someone poorly, the heart you trash will be your own. Be more careful with others hearts than your own. Repeat: The heart you trash will be your own. Go live in Des Moines, maybe there's a nice farm girl out there for you, with corn and stuff, or to Rhodesia, or Poland, whatever blows your skirt up, toss the dice. Close your eyes, turn over the Magic Eight Ball and see what comes up.

Write when you find work.

Have fun!
posted by dancestoblue at 12:41 AM on April 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

I was a mess, acting like an emotionally stunted 15 year old that have been stuck in therapy through most of my twenties, finally I literally told my parents "fuck you" and ran off to Texas with a single suitcase. For a year and half, I bounced around, sleeping on floors making ends meet by taking odd jobs and living on my credit card (not recommended).

Now I'm in China working on an exciting venture with awesome people.

I don't recommend you giving your parents the finger and becoming a hobo, but life moves really, really fast and the only way to figure out what you're interested in (and by extension who you are) is to keep on trying new things until something sticks.

I say stop trying to find the answer, and as Rilke wrote "live the question." Go out, try things, experience for the sake of experiencing.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 12:51 AM on April 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Personally what's worked/working for me:
- Moving to a different country
- Saying "yes" more often than "no" (see above)
- Reading Metafilter with an open mind
posted by like_neon at 3:08 AM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

What worked for me: getting married, having a kid, and to a lesser extent, living in a different country. I never amounted to much of anything before any of that happened. I still don't amount to much but my family gives me a much-needed set of responsibilities, basically things to do and be.
posted by tra at 12:59 PM on April 26, 2011

Like many others have mentioned, I left the country. I went to a country where I didn't know anyone, didn't speak the language, and few spoke English. Talk about getting out of your comfort zone! I was just out of college at the time, and hadn't really been in a position where there was no one to fall back on but myself. So the experience really made me face my fears head on. I learned that I was a lot stronger than I had ever realized. And that gave me tremendous confidence. That found sense of confidence really became the platform of my adulthood. Too this day I have confidence in myself even when others don't, because I know that I am capable of looking after myself.

Also, living away from family and friends for several months gave me the opportunity first to evaluate myself, who I wanted to be and how I might want to redefine myself, and second, to evaluate all of those relationships, to decide which ones were a good fit in my life, which ones needed tweaking, and which ones no longer fit. New found confidence mentioned above allowed me to make the necessary changes unapologetically.

And now my motto is "Life begins where your comfort zone ends".
posted by vignettist at 1:17 PM on April 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

I suggest you let go of the assumption that there is a you to find. Just don't worry about it so much. Relax your "self". After all, a unified & private consciousness only exists to the extent that the brain allows it to. The same is true for emotions. These subjective qualities result from 4 billion years of evolution (both adaptive & exaptive).

Which brings me to sex. I suggest you have a lot of it. Although I'm no expert, it is my understanding that sex has a tendency to make people happy and stay healthy. Obviously you should do so with care, love, and patience.

As other posts have said, direct your attention to those who share your interests. With time and patience, they will become your friends and you will be happy simply to be in the company of people with trust and love. If it is difficult to find interesting things to do where you live, then be patient, and move to where the action is at your earliest opportunity.

If you hit me with a stick, I will feel it. Don't annihilate your self, relax your self. Don't annihilate negative emotions; relax them. Find the middle path! Welcome your negative thoughts, but don't cling to them. Welcome all of your thoughts, and then let them go! (But hold on to the positive ones for longer than the negatives.) Over time this positivity will expand your consciousness, increasing your happiness and prosperity.

Cognitive behavioral therapy and/ or group therapy can also be extremely helpful if the therapist is skilled. Not all therapists are good - you need a good reference and shop around.

Also check out
(I drew pretty heavily from that site's material in this post, but it's filtered through my own experience)

Try adderall! Try wellbutrin! Try everything! (but not at the same time and with a doctor.) Consider coming back to meditation with a different approach than before and with supportive community! 
posted by Robopopo at 8:51 PM on May 13, 2011

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