What will I be?

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

I posted this in forums in hopes of getting help, but I really hope an actual therapist can give me an answer.

I have had this problem for a long time I assume. Only, I have only noticed it as a problem until recently.

Making decisions- that includes, when buying things, agreeing, disagreeing, and career choices. Things of these sorts.

Example: Maybe for a month and a half I will decide I want to be a physicist, I WANT to study physics. I will buy every book out there and pretend I’m some sort of scientist or something. I will tell a person that’s what I want to be. I feel 200% positive its what I want. Then…all of a sudden, one day I wont understand why in the world I would ever want to be that, it seems completely alien to me, and just ABSURD. Then all of a sudden, month’s later maybe I will want it again so I’m afraid to completely get rid of the idea.

I have done this so far with.
-Wanting to be a concert pianist
-A doctor
-Convert to Judaism
- And like 15 other things…

The problem is that when I decide these things, they feel like I really want them 200%. I even called this Rabbi and told him to convert me and all, and he started the process too, I even learned how to read Hebrew. But now I feel like: Why the hell did I want to do that? I feel like I don’t even remember who I was when I called that Rabbi, or what I was thinking. I have done this with all the above…When I wanted to be a doctor, I even enrolled in a hospital program, when I wanted to be a concert pianist, I applied to some conservatories.

On the conversion to Judaism thing…it’s a serious problem because now these people think I want to convert. Because apparently I convinced him 100% when I gave him my speech on why I wanted to be Jewish.

Then I changed my mind…. but then one day I woke up and wanted to convert again …and I even wrote this e-mail assuring him how serious I was about it. And now, I don’t understand WHY I EVER WROTE IT!

I’m scared of telling him I don’t want to convert because what if I change my mind again? When I change its like…these things seem SO important to me. It’s so bizarre!

I’m so ANNOYED!

I mean, when I wanted them, I wanted them…but it’s not simply a change of mind. Its complete disorientation…like “Why did I even do that?”

Or I will buy things, that at the time seem super important,
Later I don’t understand why in the world I ever bought them.

This will happen with simple decisions too. Also, I change a lot in social behavior at times. I will be completely outgoing…whereas normally I would be TERRIFIED of being social…but for some reason I’m not at some point….and then I realize what I have said and done, I regret it.

Im not sure what to do. I dont know how to trust myself if I keep changing my mind. Its like I’m not able to discern whether something will last, or if I really want something because I am in different states when I make decisions, and then I go to another state of mind and I dont understand my actions.
I am so desperate, this is really interfering with my life, along with other problems I already have.

A: “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.”
-Lily Tomlin

This famous comedian brings to light the struggle of figuring out who to be, and how to be, in the world. I think you are trying to find your uniqueness. At 19 you are simply in the throes of you first identity crisis.

You are in college, which is the right place for identity development because it allows you to sample. And, as hard to believe as it might be, sampling, NOT making a decision for a period of time, is the solution. You are simply not ready to commit to a way of being. The only consistency is that you are always sampling. It is a very natural part of human development. Just for fun, I thought I would list the jobs I had before settling on becoming a psychologist.

  • Truck Driver
  • Factory worker
  • Mover
  • Electrician’s helper
  • Auto assembly line worker
  • Toilet bowl assembler (No kidding)
  • Batender
  • Lawn caretaker
  • Waiter
  • Newspaper distributor
  • Comedy writer
  • Teacher
  • Dishwasher
  • Stand-up comic
  • Retail salesman

Oh, and should I start with majors? Physical Education, English, Photography…

The point is all of this began in my teens and through my 20s, and each of these had a type of calling (okay, maybe not the toilet bowl thing.) But it faded once something else grabbed me, then that became the identity flavor of the month.

Erik Erikson has proposed a solution to this struggle, which may be important. He believed that young adulthood was not the best time to make a life-long commitment, and offered something called a psycho-social moratorium. In other words, give yourself a break. A time to sample several things without making a firm commitment. Try them on for size with some experiences, and see where it takes you. True identity evolves after we have challenged ourselves sufficiently. We need to have a struggle in order to understand more about what we are willing to commit to. Who we become is informed by who we don’t want to be.

See yourself as sampling and don’t pathologize what is happening. Seventy percent of students change their major after they have declared it: It comes with the territory. Give your commitments time to ripen.

On the other side of the coin use some parameters for managing yourself properly. Don’t take more than a year of sampling at the most, then pick a direction that draws you. See if it holds you. One of the things that underlies your list of attempts is brevity. Find out what interests you long enough to make a sustainable commitment. The idea of implementing a moratorium is what you have been doing naturally. Don’t try anything with the sense that it is forever. Start with the attitude that you are going to see if the allure is maintained. The university counseling center can help you take some tests for career counseling that can help you narrow down both what you may like, and what you may be good at.

And this isn’t just for the teens and early twenties.

What we know from many researchers and is that we go through an identity crisis about every seven years. Gail Sheehy, the New York Times best-selling author, has written about this extensively.

Since you chose physics and Judaism as possible directions I thought it might be appropriate to end with encouragement from this former patent clerk:

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
-Albert Einstein
Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 May 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). What will I be?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/05/26/what-will-i-be/