For many students, university marks the beginning of the precious, confusing, and deeply formative age of emerging adulthood.
It’s a stage of life that developed roughly over the past half-century, particularly in industrialized countries. Early adulthood refers to the years between adolescence and adulthood—usually 18 to 29—where people settle into adult careers, responsibilities, and relationships.
Crucially, to facilitate its characteristic self-exploration and discovery, emerging adulthood is thought of as a self-focused age. Yet many young people struggle to feel comfortable in the silence and solitude conducive to self-reflection.
Students feel pressure to always be doing something, whether it be schoolwork, earning money, or socializing. Meanwhile, streaming services and social media encourage us to distract ourselves from our thoughts in rare moments alone.
We should take time with our thoughts. Time to be meaningfully and mindfully alone.
Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with enjoying the company of others, and you’ll learn about yourself even if you’re always around people. However, without balance, you could find your self-image being informed by others’ expectations rather than your own.
You probably know who you are as a housemate, a friend, a student, a partner—who are you alone?
Spending time thinking about your values and their reasoning, your actions and their explanations, and your feelings and their origins, will help you build a relationship with yourself.
If you don’t know where to start, try taking a walk.
You don’t have to listen to music or call a friend. Try just walking in silence, letting your mind wander, and seeing where it takes you. Get more comfortable listening to your inner dialogue, rather than mediating or burying it.
Practice being mindfully alone in small moments; get to know and like being with yourself. Paying attention to that inner dialogue validates it and you.
Remember, it’s okay if you feel lonely. In identifying any emotion, you’ve still learnt something about yourself.
Emerging adulthood is a period of instability, during which young people navigate leaving home, university life, entering the workforce, long term relationships, and more. You’re expected to move around and change jobs often, meaning you’ll likely find yourself in new situations with new people regularly.
When everything else is changing, it’s helpful to feel grounded in your understanding of yourself. Being able to rely on yourself steels you against uncertainty and disorienting new experiences.
On a smaller scale, a strong sense of self helps you remember you’re more than grades, or relationships, or anything else external. These things are fantastic, and it’s natural for them to feel like a part of you somehow, but they don’t have to determine how you define yourself.
No matter how perfect your relationships, the only person who will always be there for you at a moment’s notice is yourself. Don’t forget to build that relationship, too.
Time where you’re expected to focus on yourself is a blessing—relish the opportunity.
Cassandra is a third-year English student and one of The Journal’s Copy Editors
adulthood, Independence, loneliness, self confidence
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