COLUMN: Self-understanding is an evolving process

When I decided to write a column at the beginning of the semester, I had difficulty selecting the topic I’d write about. Despite being an editor of a section focused on arts, entertainment and culture, I felt that my interest in these areas weren’t strong enough to warrant writing a column every other week. But just as I was about to give up on the whole idea of being a columnist, I realized there was one story left that was worth telling: my own.

As I left behind my teenage years to enter adulthood, life still felt so uncertain. It was partially because my career goals were starting to shift, but I was also still trying to find myself in the midst of everything happening around me. It felt as if I had all the puzzle pieces, but needed to put them all together to fully understand who I am.

Writing this column gave me that outlet. I was able to fully express the sentiments that I withheld for so many years about my gender identity, my Vietnamese-American background, my cultural heritage, my religious beliefs and my sexuality. In essence, I had opened up my thoughts and feelings to the rest of the world without fear of consequences — something I never thought I was brave enough to do. But I’m happy I did, and I know that I’m stronger because of it.

Sharing my thoughts in this column did have its consequences. My parents found out about my sexuality, though I meant to keep it hidden from them. Despite this leading to a strained relationship with my family, I was finally able to find myself amid all the messy pieces of my life.

In retrospect, a lot has already happened in 2017. I turned 20. I got my first internship and started listening to EDM. I witnessed the death of a friend. I became truly open about my sexuality, but I jeopardized my relationship with my parents. During spring break, I went on a solo trip to Chicago. And when I came back, I withdrew from a class. But at last, I finally found myself.

There were moments when I wanted to quit writing. When my parents found out about what I had published about my sexuality, I felt like I had disappointed them beyond measure and that there was no way that they would ever forgive me for bringing our family to shame. I spent several weeks questioning my own existence. And it took many teardrops to realize my worth as a person in this world. During my solo trip to Chicago, it even took a Wednesday evening in the snow to realize that I needed to live according to my own terms, and to not let anyone or anything obstruct my view of the future. The Chicago trip helped me reflect on my progression thus far in life, and how much more I have yet to accomplish, despite the academic, professional and personal setbacks I’ve faced.

All of that contributed to the change that occurred throughout the course of the semester. Though there were parts of me that remained the same, I learned that it was OK to evolve, and that I needed to embrace the change that was occurring in my life. Of the more minor changes, I began to develop a liking for electronic music. And of the more major changes, I learned that it was important to take a gamble and be vulnerable because that was easiest way to finally accept and understand every part of my identity.

Before this semester, I was under the impression that I would always remain the same, no matter what. However, I now know that change is instrumental to growing up — and that it will allow me to become the best version of myself as I mature. When I left for Chicago, I spent much of the time I had considering what direction I wanted to take in my life. Would I continue to chastise myself for not going to church or not being the person my parents expected me to be? Or would I learn to let go of the past, let life run its course and just be spontaneous?

In the end, I’m confident I chose the right path for myself. I no longer fear change. I no longer fear being judged for expressing myself. I no longer fear disappointing other people. And now, I know that I’m capable of happiness if I just remain true to myself and be open to exploring different possibilities. In the end, life has a way of surprising us no matter how much we try to prevent it. Our identities are constantly shifting and molding according to our present experiences and relationships with others. And despite these changes, I’ll always be content with myself for all my flaws. That’s what matters the most.

Allen Pham is a sophomore majoring in public relations. He is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “The A Game,” runs every other Monday.