I look at today’s teens and I wonder – how do you not know who you are?

I have a few students who know who they are. And the rest – from grade 7 to grade 12, up through National Service or army, and often even when they begin college – do not know what they want to do with their lives.

Then they start dating. And they do not know what kind of spouse they are looking for. Sure, they spit back all the regular answers: religious, middle-of-the-road, knows what he wants to do, did army (possibly combat). But they do not know what they are looking for.

And they can’t. Because they don’t know why they are.

If I were a coach, if I had enough money that I did not need to work, I would volunteer to act as life coach for high school students.

Because these are the years. This is when you become who you are. When you choose what, ad who, you will become.

Sometimes it takes a bit longer. But by age 20, you should know who you are.

At least, I think.

As it turns out, I’m not alone. And neither are they.

Yitzchak’s developmental psychology book speaks exactly about these situations.

There are two major problems that many teens face when trying to achieve identity:

  1. Identity moratorium. These teens are “high school students,” “college students,” possibly even “computer science students,” and maybe they are “army guys/ gals.” But the issue is that their definition of self changes as their external role changes. They define themselves based on what they are occupied with, not as who they are. Because, in essence, they do not know who they are.
  2. Identity diffusion. This is a state when the young adult does not know who they are, and does not really care to find out. These adults ignore conflict and refuse to discuss issues. They are, essentially, in denial. If you try to bring up an important subject, they will say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter anyways, because . . . ” or possibly, “Whatever . . .” They have a hard time committing and avoid deep introspection and questioning.

The problem is that often, neither of these states resolve themselves.

There is a third state that psychology deems problematic, and that is the state of identity foreclosure. In this, the teen unequivocally adopts societal and parental expectations, and becomes whatever is expected of them. This teen avoids questioning, but in all honesty – as long as he continues being happy with his chosen, “forced,” identity as an adult – I don’t really see the issue. Not everyone is a questioner and non-conformer. That’s okay.

But the identity and moratorium are actually harmful to those afflicted with them. Because neither knows who they are.

The moratorium is painful. It’s painful to be questioning but not be able to commit. It’s painful to know that you are something, that there is something that fits, and not know how or where to find it.

The diffusion is not as painful. At least, not on a conscious level. But a person suffering from identity diffusion will very often find themselves years later, looking back and wondering how they messed up their lives. Suddenly, they begin to care, only to discover too late that they have gone down the wrong path.

The book had a nice chart:

commitment + questioning = identity achieved

no commitment + no questioning = identity diffusion

no commitment + questioning = identity moratorium

commitment + no questioning = identity foreclosure

It was in chart form, of course.

Me, I have often been told that I am immature. I decided at age 6 that I wanted to be a teacher, and I did it. I decided at age 12 that I wanted to move to Israel, and I did it. I decided a lot of things as a kid – and when I found that list, just before I made aliya – everything on it fell into three categories:

  1. accomplished
  2. in the process of accomplishing
  3. no longer important to me

Yitzchak did not know what he wanted to do with his life until he started college. He debated between two or three things, and then chose. But Yitzchak’s identity is not caught up with what he does for a living. He could work in anything and be content, as long as it was decent work, good conditions, and paid the bills. He has his dream job, of course. But if he is not working in that dream job, it doesn’t matter to him what he *does* work in.

We can probably sum this up by saying that job/ occupation is not the entirety of someone’s identity.

But when a person does not know who they are at the age of 22, 25, or 28, and cannot choose a spouse – there is a problem.

What makes you special? What do you have to give to the world?

What do you want your life to look like?

Answer these questions, for yourself . . . because when I ask them of people trying hard to find a spouse, and not succeeding, most of them cannot answer me. And they get mad at me for digging too deeply, for asking what they see as irrelevant questions.

It’s not irrelevant. It’s about your identity.

As Gila Manolson points out in her book, “Head to Heart,” you will only find a spouse who is as healthy and whole as you are now. Like marries like.

And one day, when I have the time and money, I will do that coaching course, to make my talent official.

And then when I have more time, and less need for a “real” job, I will be a volunteer coach, working in high schools.


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