Recent studies involving 50,000 participants from across the US and Europe have found that, rather than being fixed throughout our lives, some aspects of our personalities are liable to change over time (psychologytoday.com). This finding isn’t all that surprising to me as there are definitely some aspects of my personality that have changed significantly over the years. What I’m more interested in is the enormous impact on our lives that these sometimes dramatic changes can have.
Prior to attending university a few years ago my life was rather chaotic. Having failed to achieve decent grades in my GCSEs, I spent many years after leaving school feeling like an academic failure. Unable to pursue at college any of the subjects that I was interested in, I became disillusioned with the education system and threw myself into the rave scene as a means of escape. Accepted without question into this world of heavy drum beats and pretty lights, it was easy to forget about my academic failings and concentrate instead on having lots of fun, which I did for quite a long time. However, the more hedonistic my life became the more weary of the party lifestyle I started to feel, until eventually I started to yearn for something different.
In 2009, eight years after leaving secondary school, I completed a short course with the Open University that gave me the UCAS credits needed to continue my studies at undergraduate level. At 28 years old I finally graduated from university with a BA in English literature, and just a few years later I’m looking forward to beginning a postgraduate degree in a subject that I care deeply about.
The colossal change to my lifestyle that choosing to study necessitated left me feeling hugely disconnected from the world that I’d grown up in.
But desperate as I was all those years ago to step out of the identity that I’d created for myself, the transition from hedonistic party-goer to diligent literature student wasn’t entirely smooth sailing. As well as being plagued by self-doubt throughout my university career, the colossal change to my lifestyle that choosing to study necessitated left me feeling hugely disconnected from the world that I’d grown up in. Where I used to crave spending time with my friends, I found myself increasingly choosing to be alone. And where I once enjoyed being the life and soul of the party, I began to feel more content staying at home. At this stage, everything I thought I knew about myself – what I enjoyed, who my friends were, what kind of future I envisioned for myself – began to unravel, until I felt completely alienated, not only from my world, but from myself. Who was I? And what did I want out of life? For a while I had no idea.
There’s no denying just how beneficial for my mental and physical health the shedding of my old skin has been. But as much as seeking change was the right thing for me to do, it has also left me exposed to quite a bit of confusion and pain. There are good friends I no longer spend time with, favourite places that I no longer feel inclined to visit, music that no longer inspires me to dance, and experiences that I no longer enjoy. And as much as I feel disconnected from the parts of my self and my life that are most familiar, I’m also not entirely at ease with the new me that is taking shape. The space I occupy lies somewhere between two very different worlds, neither of which I’m entirely comfortable in.
But difficult as the transition from old to new is proving to be, the discomfort I feel reassures me that I’m headed in the right direction. As the infinitely brilliant H.G. Wells once said, ‘We should strive to welcome change and challenges, because they are what help us grow.’ Having spent well over a decade forging a very different identity from the one that I’m beginning to step into today, it will, I think, take some time to figure out which parts of my old self to keep and which to leave behind.
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