The Journey to be Oneself
When former LMU President Fr. Robert Lawton observed that the “journey
to be oneself” was the riskiest journey a person faces, he was right. The journey to be oneself is full of risk. When you are in high school, it is easy to fall back on the support of your family and friends. It is easy to let their will shape the way you live to some degree. When you live at home, you have a safety net. As a child, if you forget your gym clothes or an assignment, you can often count on a family member to deliver them before you need them in class. If you are ill, you can often count on a parent to drive you to the doctor or to make you soup and tend to your needs. You also often rely on the rules and expectations of your parents often guide you in the way you behave. Sometimes, these expectations help you behave like a moral, sociable and responsible person. The morals of your parents can help you appear acceptable to society.
The use of alcohol, for instance, sometimes presents a moral problem for college students. DUIs are particularly problematic (Clapp, et al. 2005). When you live at home, your parents can help limit his exposure to alcohol and can help prevent drunk driving. But when you live alone, you have to take responsibility for your own use of alcohol. You are personally responsible for the risks you take.
Furthermore, when you live at home, you can take advantage of your parents’ social connections. You often end up befriending the children of their friends, and you often end up in social situations because of the contacts your parents have already made. If your parents are likable, often, some of their appeal spills over onto you. But when you set off on your own, you separate yourself from the support of your parents and you begin to make your own rules and to set your own standards. You decide how to behave on your own. Becoming yourself means putting your own beliefs and your own way of living to the test. You have to make your own friends and earn respect on your own (Sharma 1996). If you forget an assignment, you no longer have anyone to save you from a reputation of carelessness or forgetfulness. Yet, if the way in which you behave makes you popular and respected, you can claim credit that you might not have been able to claim if you simply relied on living the way in which you were told to by your parents.
Living on your own also means having to test your ability to work and to thrive. If you excel at your job and do well at your classes, you have proof that the way in which you live leads to success. Your beliefs and your efforts are affirmed by your success. If, on the other hand, you find that you struggle in your position and you do poorly in your academic work, that failure is your own. Becoming yourself is risky, because it means understanding yourself as an individual. It means putting what is in your heart out into the real world. It means finding out whether the person you are is a person who is likable, successful and moral or unlikable, immoral and a failure.
It means having to do more to earn the respect of your peers and colleagues. It means figuring out whether or not you are willing to be as responsible as your parents were or if you are willing to live a better life as your parents did. It means figuring out whether or not you will repeat the patterns of behavior the people in your family did, or if you will break the patterns and become something exceptional. It means opening yourself up to criticism, and looking at yourself in a whole new light.
Children often spend time dreaming about what they will be when they grow up. They dream of being doctors and veterinarians, poets and artists, scientists and astronauts. Going to college can mean beginning the realization of these dreams or it can mean shattering these dreams forever.