When I was in fifth grade, I discovered the possibility of playing my own music. I signed up for middle school band, forced my mom to buy me a brand new alto saxophone with all the bells and whistles, and began my routine of obnoxiously sputtering into my instrument every night, trying my best to master “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” No longer was I confined to listening to Backstreet Boys or Hilary Duff on my Sony Walkman—I could now master the art of (poorly) curating music on my own.
Fast forward to my sophomore year in college and I am no longer playing my alto saxophone. The instrument I once loved is now retired and its case serves as my bedside table at home. However, wanting to preserve the musical knowledge I learned by participating in band for eight years, I decided to take up the guitar this past summer, teaching myself chords week-by-week and (to the dismay of my roommates) mastering "Wagon Wheel" in my dorm room. While this decision was trivial to me, I was questioned about finding myself musically as a reason to learn guitar—a notion way over my head, and one I hadn’t thought about until prompted.
The concept of people “finding themselves” has always seemed a little arbitrary and futile to me. It is a term that is tossed around frequently, especially among college students, but it seems to hold no substance or definite meaning. What have people lost, and how are they going to find “it” in one fell swoop?
In my own experience, the phrase “finding myself” is a scapegoat term used to signify one’s feeling of discontent toward their current state. Finding yourself is not only an excuse, but also an unreasonable expectation. It is unhealthy to assume that one action, decision, or change may alter the course of your life for the better. Truth is, you’re already yourself whether you run a marathon or not, change jobs or not, or, in my case, learn a new instrument or not.
The excuse component of employing this term is seen when people claim they are still trying to find themselves as a certain job title (writer, businessperson, musician, etc.). This cop out suggests that the user of this phrase is not proud of where they are or who they are in their career at the given moment, and serves as a means to lower the expectations of those around them. This also implies that learning how to pursue a new passion is a negative thing, instead of what it really is: a natural, positive choice. Therefore, unhealthy connotations accompany the idea of finding yourself.
Furthermore, there seems to exist a pattern of needing to find oneself among people who are experiencing failure in life. When things aren’t going as planned, finding yourself is not the answer. When you are met with hardship, the solution doesn’t simply involve having an aha moment, finding the true meaning behind your failure, and moving onto success. Rather, it entails learning from mistakes made, and reflecting on how to better your own future. Because let’s face it: Finding yourself in a time of failure usually means resorting to self pity and not owning up to mistakes made—a habit that is not only unhealthy, but also unproductive.
It is important to recognize the difference between pursuing a personality makeover and making small, positive changes. Change is good, and is something that we, as college students, are constantly a part of. However, change doesn’t mean you are getting closer to finding yourself, it simply means you are working to improve yourself. Because, despite how many adjustments you make, you are still yourself at your core, and no epiphany or search can change that.
So, when I decided I wanted to learn to play the guitar, I wasn’t looking to reinvent my personality or image, I was simply trying to find a way to remember how to play music and fill my free time. Truthfully, while claiming that I am “trying to find myself musically” would be much easier to say than “I’m learning guitar,” I know that this over-used term could not accurately describe my decision, because I know I am still my un-lost self with or without calluses on my fingers or “Wagon Wheel” stuck in my head.