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My phone cover is currently a quote that says, “Nothing will ruin your 20s more than thinking you should have your life together already.” Over the last couple months, I have constantly googled, “What should I do with my life?” and taken countless quizzes trying to figure out what the next move in my life should be — and who should be there with me.

I’m 21, and I’m a junior in college — of course I’m in a state of frenzy trying to figure out the trajectory of my life. Everything, from trying to find an internship for the summer to questioning why I’m still single, has made me feel like I have been shoved from the warm embrace of youth and innocence to the blaring reality of adulthood. I am a sucker for birthdays, and I thought that the day I turned 21 everything would simply fall into place, as if blowing out candles were magic. But a month in, I realized I’d only grown older in years — I was still as confused as I was at 20. Even though I understand objectively that I am still young, and this is all natural to feel, I can’t help but continue to feel like every wasted minute that goes by is a dime from my ever-decreasing bank account of time.

When I was in high school, I had a pretty firm grasp on what and who I wanted to be. I wanted to get into a certain university, I wanted to be a lawyer like my older sister, I wanted to change the world radically and write a Pulitzer prize-winning novel. I imagined I’d automatically find the love of my life when I got to college, and it wouldn’t be anything I would have to stress about. I thought I knew what was right, what was wrong, what it took to be a good person, and I had this confidence in myself and my abilities that seem like a ghost of what I feel today.

Today, I feel completely lost. I don’t know what I want, I don’t know who I want to be, I don’t know why I ever thought I had a grasp on morality — I’m essentially reading Buzzfeed articles, watching sappy indie movies, listening to lyrically stimulating music and trying to find myself again. But the more I engage with different media, the more I find that when I look into the mirror, I don’t know who is looking back.

One night, I stared at the mirror for an hour, thinking my eyes were no longer my eyes as they watered, and I could swear I once read somewhere that if you stare long enough into the mirror, your self in an alternate universe starts to stare back.

But my alternate-universe self was crying, and I cried that in all the infinite possible universes, I am always in a glass container I’ve created for myself. It is not a special container. It is not remarkable in anyway. It is small, ordinary and temporary. I could grow inside the container, but I would evaporate into a nobody inside the container.

This grandiose build-up is leading somewhere, I promise. Lately I’ve been thinking about love and romance and the whole ordeal of relationships, and I’ve started to get really frustrated. Here I had been looking at all my friends around me falling in love, secretly yearning for a love I could call my own, while I was still trying to figure out who I am. How could I add to my plate of self-doubt and insecurity another human being?

I used to think a person could help you figure out who you are. I know a lot of people chant something along the lines of “love yourself and someone will love you,” but I’ve found comfort in those who bite back, saying that sometimes it’s hard to love yourself, and it’s okay to want someone to love you even if you can’t love yourself.

But for me, that’s not going to be possible, and that’s the one bit of myself I now do know. I am someone who is constantly evolving and changing, and it’s not always for the better. So while I do think it’s okay to want to be loved, I now know I want to be the one who loves me. I want to put any energy I have into taking myself out on a really long, nice first date I can tell my kids about when I grow up.

Now I feel, for the first time in a long time, that I know one thing I want to do with my life. I want to go on this great, exciting journey of regaining my sense of self. I want to know what I like — purely my own interests and desires without any outside influence. I want to find this great passion for something that will become a career. I want to tap back into the kid-version of myself who wrote the worst novels just because it was fun and exciting. Maybe I want to try acting or learn a new instrument. I don’t know what I want or who I am yet, but I do know that I do not want to expect someone to love me if I am not so sure I know who “me” is just yet.

Sara Al-Salem ’17 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to


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