We are all in search of our own identity. The question “who am I?” is an age-old quandary, and as far as I can tell just about everyone wants to know the answer. Asking who we are puts the “quest” in question, because that’s what it is. A journey. Of course, I’m not here to tell you the answer. If an answer even exists, it certainly wouldn’t fit in a page-long blog post, and it definitely wouldn’t be revealed through the musings of some random college kid. However, I do like to pay attention to other people’s experiences and learn from what they have to say, and between those and, yes, my musings, I’ve come to realize a few unqualified and unsolicited conclusions.

Scientists have been able to gaze at galaxies billions of light-years away, and yet the deepest we’ve dug into our own planet was seven and a half miles. It’s often a lot easier to look outward than in. And whether we’re talking about peering into the core of the earth or into the core of your soul, the reason is largely the same: perspective.

What does the inside of your nose smell like? Could you describe it? Do you even know? Of course not, because you’ve always smelled it, so to you it smells like nothing. What’s normal to you is defined by what you are around, what you experience frequently and without novelty. It’s subjective, and arbitrary, and unique to you. In fact, it is you. Because of how it’s defined, you are, to yourself, the absolute pinnacle of normalcy, because you are the epicenter of your own experience. What this means is that, much like smelling the inside of our noses, it’s incredibly difficult to get a good look at ourselves. And, on some level of our brains at least, it’s frankly just boring.

What isn’t boring is new encounters. Novelty, excitement, intrigue, these are the things that make up our salient experiences, our memories, because they’re not us. And that is precisely why they’re so important in learning about ourselves. No amount of solitary introspection can reveal how you behave when a friend opens up to you, or when you’re left out of an inside joke. I don’t know whether or not your identity is defined by your actions, but you sure as heck can’t find it if you don’t take any. Stop and talk to that person you’ve always dismissed as a bit of a weirdo. Pull over and help the guy with a flat tire. Finally ask your crush out on a date. If you want to find yourself, stop looking and start living.

So many people try to make their mark on this world, striving to leave a legacy so that who they are will somehow be preserved for eternity. But let me tell you something, take even the Egyptian pharaohs who built literal monuments to the skies adorned with gold and riches and tales of their lives etched in stone, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about who any of them were as people. Your identity is inscrutable, mysterious, and fleeting. The ripples your life leaves behind may last forever, but its shape will sink to the bottom of the pond, out of sight. And that’s what makes it special. You are so intricate, so extraordinary, that there are no words, no monuments, no legacy in this universe that can capture your identity. It belongs to you.

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