Defining Yourself After College

In 5 days, it will be exactly one year since I graduated college.

Hollister T's all day every day. Circa 2002.

Hollister T’s all day every day. Circa 2002.

When I think back on 13-year-old Melissa, I think 13-year-old Melissa thought she would have things figured out by 23. I thought that I would graduate college, and I would know who I am. I would know what gets to me, what makes me tick, what makes me sick, and what brings me joy. I thought I would step into this role as my “real and true” self. I was pretty sure that by 23 I would know who I was.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about what it means to “define yourself.” When I introduce myself at social gatherings (aka bars), usually the first topic of conversation is what I do for a living.

Well. I do marketing. But is that what defines me? Is that who I am? A marketer?

downloadWhen I switched my major in college to marketing, I was 100% certain it was my calling in life. Applying to Wisconsin’s School of Business was the best decision I ever made. I made the decision after taking a year off of school – a year filled with a lot of soul searching. I was pretty certain I had figured out who I was at that point. Or who I was supposed to be. I was certain that I would obtain my marketing degree, and take a job that filled me with energy, passion, and excitement. I would change the world as a new marketer! I was certain I had found my key to happiness. Marketing would define my future, and I was okay with that. I was down right excited about it. Marketing was me. The real, true me. That’s who I was. A UW Business student. A marketing major.

IMG_6919In college, you get so used to having this label – this title that defines you – that I think you leave college and crave that same title. You crave the elevator pitch that defines who you are, and what you offer the world. “I am a University of Wisconsin Business Student.” Boom. Done.

Taking a full-time job in your field of choice (hopefully) seems like a great way to define yourself post-college. “I am marketing specialist for an agency.” Boom. Done.

After all, you’re going to spend 80% of your week doing that job. Your job will consume your days, and it will provide you with a title to place on your Facebook, your LinkedIn, and your email signature. And that will define you. And that feels comfortable because a definition is what you are used to.

I’m starting to realize that, to some degree, a job is always going to be a job. And if I rely on my job to define me, I am quickly headed for the path of un-fulfillment.

Yes. I do marketing. I do a lot of marketing.  Marketing defines my days, but does it define me? Is that who I am? Is that the real me? How do I figure out who the real me is? Is this the key to happiness? Figuring out the dictionary definition of Melissa Faulkner?

glitterIn these conversations about “defining yourself” – there always tends to be some tangent about knowing who the “real you” is. Defining ourselves is not about one activity – like marketing – but a lot of activities. And finding all those things that get deep under your skin and light up your soul….those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make up the “real you.” Supposedly when you are doing these activities that define you, you shine. And it’s obvious to everyone around you. Like Twilight. Literally your skin will glisten with diamonds.


I’m starting to have these thoughts that I don’t want to be defined by anything.

I still love marketing. I still love social media. And I really love yoga.

I also love organized dresser drawers. And I love iced coffee with a little bit of soymilk. I love cotton nightgowns. I love having proper glassware for every type of cocktail. I really like bike riding. I really like bike riding with a buddy. And I love grocery shopping. I love buying things I don’t need and not needing any justification beyond “Because I wanted to.”

But I don’t want any of this to define me. I’m not sure I ever want to 100% know, without a doubt, who I am. Who the real me is. Because that’s when the adventures stop. That’s when the fun, and the growth, and the change stops. I constantly want to test the limits of who I am. I constantly want to be learning and growing – and discovering myself. I don’t want to be afraid to do new things, because it might not be in line with what already defines me. I don’t want other people to be afraid to ask me to try new things, because it doesn’t seem to fit with what defines me. I don’t want to be a definition. Or a title. Or an email signature.

IMG_6957I want my soul to be one giant, empty book – nothing but blank pages waiting to be filled. Stories to be written. Experiments to record. Data to collect. Songs to be sung.

It has been one year since I graduated, and I still have absolutely no idea who I am. And I think I am okay with that. I am not sure I ever want to know exactly who I am. Because I want to redefine that every day. Because I never want a reason to say “no.”

I know I am not unique or special in this post-college identity crisis. But I really want to stop thinking that this identity crisis is some disease that I need to cure. Maybe this identity crisis is a blessing in disguise. Maybe it is a reason to always say “yes.”

In closing, I’d like to quote Viktor E. Frankl from his book Man’s Search for Meaning. “Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it.”

I’ve decided it’s time to just stop caring about finding myself, defining myself, finding my true self – whatever you want to call it. I’m just gonna let it happen.

Bring it on, Life.


About Melissa Faulkner

1. If I blog, someone will eventually discover me. 2. If someone eventually discovers me, I will become rich and famous. 3. If I blog, I will become rich and famous. Follow me for shorter, daily doses! @melisslyss
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