KARNA: An Identity Intervention
Unmasked

It is time for an intervention for college students everywhere, myself included.

After two years at Georgetown, I have a taste of what it is like to be a millennial trying to become someone. Being immersed in the politically and intellectually charged population of hormonal young adults on campus has definitely shed light on the way we have adapted to our peculiar environment. We try on different personalities, posture various positions and strive to be different.

On the cusp of maturity, we are itching to figure out who we are, what boxes we can check off and how we can fit into our worlds. We are stuck in this awkward in-between, puzzling over our identities:  we’re no longer dependent kids, but we are not quite  the worldly adults we’re pretending to be  either.

Identity develops through many different contexts. Consider gender, sexuality, religion, place of origin, race, political stance, career, desires and opinions; these are all avenues in the generic design of a person’s makeup.

We love to be activists for them.

Thus, we classify ourselves and check those boxes as best we can. Caitlin Karna: junior, School of  Foreign Service, from Dallas, Texas. Caitlin Karna: half-Indian, quarter-Italian, quarter-Irish. Caitlin Karna: heterosexual, Catholic, liberal. These facts make up the taxonomy that can be bubbled in on a job application’s questionnaire. But these selections fail to reveal what my career path may be, that I live in Dallas but am not from Dallas, that my heritage is mixed but I am about as American as it gets, and how my religion, sexuality and political view play a part in my life.

Many of these classifications of identity are masks we wear. We focus on the parts of our identity that we can bubble in. But the identities we create and believe to be true are just characters that society has told us to embody. A driver’s license hands us attributes we think central on our identity, but upon closer inspection, it is clear all of these — sex, eye color, height, even our names — are identities given to us at birth that we accepted as our own.

This reality presents an unintentional side effect. We grow up in an environment that forces us to distinguish ourselves, to figure out what sets us aside from the rest of the crowd, to show off our best assets. Employers and graduate school admission officers ask for beefed-up resumes, but also proof that we are well-rounded people involved in the campus community.

As a result, our identities form with rigidity and a singular purpose of presenting ourselves definitively.

With these framework identities, we lack open-mindedness and the willingness to understand the unaligned views of others. Because we are so determined to check off all the right boxes, we lose room for new perspectives, growth in ideas and interest in fields we never would expect. We take our carefully crafted interview identities and use them as masks, or even shields to protect ourselves from those who have the power to crack our shells.

In reality, we have little clue as to what we want to do or who we want to be. But it is okay not to know, and it is not important to seem like we have it all together. The exercise of being different is not at all unusual; everyone is trying to do the same exact thing.

Besides crafting a tailor-made persona to project in a professional world, we should also set aside time to cultivate the aspects of us that construct our personalities and ourselves — the elements of our identity that people remember.

Caitlin Karna is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. UNMASKED appears every other Friday.

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