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Trying to solve identity crisis

Column/Adam B. Rosen

Life runs in cycles. Experiences you've had in the past suddenly repeat. At least, that's how my life seems to work.

Every so often I go through what is popularly termed an "identity crisis," a period of intense introspection, self-doubt, confusion and, occasionally, depression. This, I am told, is nothing abnormal. Everyone has these periods. They're a necessary step in the maturity process; eventually you'll snap out of it. I agree. It's happened to me before, and I have come out of it, usually with some conclusion regarding my life and how I want to live it.

Why then was it so surprising when I recently found myself grappling over the meaning of life? It was bound to happen. I'd come into my second term at MIT still smug about my abilties to succeed here. I'd done well during the first term without needing pass/fail (it seemed rather unnecessary). I'd made plenty of new friends, done new and exciting things, and so on. College wasn't so hard after all.

Unfortunately this good fortune didn't survive very long. I began to experience some academic difficulties. I was sinking rapidly, to be precise. It may be a common experience, but for the first time in my life I was actually studying hard, and failing. Me, fail? Me, who had breezed through school all my life, suddenly having trouble?

Yes, obviously I should. When I got here, I was told that MIT was an extremely humbling place, and boy do I now believe it. Fortunately I am on pass/fail, and with the aid of extra help sessions, panic periods and many morning hours spent under the electric lamps (Who burns midnight oil anymore?), I have finally managed to get back on track.

How quaint. I should be writing this column as an essay for the Freshman Handbook, rather than taking up space in The Tech. And it would be quaint, disgustingly so, if that was all I had to say.

Something happens to a person who overworks or overstresses himself for too long. It's called burn out. By the time spring break rolled around I'd had it. I hated MIT. I hated dorm life. I was angry that my friends didn't seem to be having the problems I was. I even targeted those who were having troubles, as they seemed to have found some way of dealing with their troubles.

I wasn't thrilled with my parents either, for although they were and are extremely supportive, their incessant questioning and commenting on how `normal' my problems were was quite annoying. I spent the first half of my vacation moping and sleeping.

Exactly when it happened I'm not sure, but soon I began to realize that it wasn't MIT, my friends, or my family, I was angry at. But, rather, I was angry at myself. First for not anticipating that I would have academic problems, and second for spending nearly all my waking hours trying to alleviate those problems. I was, quite simply, upset with the way my life was going. But, I didn't know what to do about it.

Again, not a unique problem, but certainly an important one. I tried to find a solution (which, incidentally, I haven't yet found) in two ways: observing and talking. Both yielded quite interesting results. My father's advice was that I shouldn't attack emotional problems as if they were scientific challenges; I didn't even realize I was doing that until I'd reread this last paragraph.

I looked around at what other people were doing with their lives: how they coped with problems, what their interests were, what their personal philosophies were. There are very few people in this world who know who they are and what they want out of life. And even fewer who achieve it.

A vast majority of the people I've known live their lives under an illusion. They put up defense mechanisms. They turn to booze and drugs. Some are extremely religious. Some are fanatic about some cause or other. Some try to be something they aren't. Others don't want to be what they can. The common thread is they're all confused -- inside, and deep down.

That is the point, we cannot find the meaning of life, so why bother trying? Why not do what interests us, even if that means putting on a mask and pretending?

I don't know why not, but, somehow, it just seems wrong. At this point I'd rather just accept the pain and confusion that come from trying to understand life, than give up trying to solve the problem.

I also spent, or at least tried to spend, time talking to people about these thoughts; about whether or not they too were plagued with confusions and self-doubts, insecurities and fears. I spoke to my friends, who I realized really were friends, in the hopes they'd shed some light on the subject. What happened was really surprising.

People don't want to admit they have these fears, (or doubts if fear is too strong a word). People would rather keep their troubles bottled up inside them than talk about them with others. I wasn't expecting words of wisdom from anyone but the best I received was an occasional yeah, I feel that way sometimes, but I don't let it bother me.

Why not? How can't you? What do you do to define where you want to go, what you want to do? This is what I wanted to know, and nobody was even willing to drop their guard and say that they didn't know either.

So I've come to the end of my tale. If I sound slightly pessimistic it's only because I haven't yet pulled through my crisis. At least I'm beginning to realize what's bothering me. My hope is that someone reading this column will identify with it and say hey, I've thought about that also. Maybe I'm not alone in this. Maybe the next time someone wants to sit and talk I won't give short, curt answers and change the subject. Even the best of friends fall into this situation.

Communication. It's a difficult thing, especially at a place like MIT. If I can be honest in The Tech, you can share your feelings with a friend.