Exploring & Committing

Simply put, forming an identity as a young man or woman is a journey – a matter of exploring your possible identity and then committing to what feels right to you – and dealing with the uncertainty during the process. That is the challenge for all teenagers, but each teenager will experience it in his or her own way.

There are two main categories of action – exploring your identity and committing to your identity.


Pull away from the old/familiar in order to explore the new. This is the heroic journey in that you must go forth into adolescence, let go of your childhood identity, discover your new identity and deal with “inbetweenity”


As with much of life, the key is to be curious and to pay attention. Exploring can happen in many ways. It can take the form of reflection, reading, trying new activities, relationships, training, volunteering, questioning, imitating a role model, trying out new looks (clothes, tattoos, piercings), affiliating with new groups or organizations, etc.

It can also take the form of challenging, arguing, debating with adults and peers – best done in a respectful manner. This can drive adults that are not ready right up the wall, but that’s part of the job of parents, teachers, and other adults involved with you.

Exploring vs. Letting Life Happen to You

Those are all natural activities, so it’s really a matter of being the author and being intentional about what you do – trying things and seeing how they fit. In other words, if the challenge is to explore, then actively explore vs. just letting things happen to you. Plenty of things will happen to you. It’s your being intentional about exploring that can make the difference.

There are a lot of aspects of identity to explore and it takes time, so pay attention as your journey unfolds. A lot of the focus of exploration will be on the topics already addressed in this section, but there may be others.


Commit to the different elements that combine to make up your identity. That may be a recommitment to the old/familiar or a commitment to something new. Usually it’s a combination. And it will probably evolve with experience. Identities are a puzzle with lots of pieces, so it takes a good deal of exploration to get clarity and begin to see the whole picture.

Committing (“Owning” Your Identity)

Some commitments you make will be solid and some will be more tentative. That’s not a bad thing. For example, you might make a strong commitment to a Christian or Islamic spiritual path, but be less sure of your purpose in life. You might be very sure of your strongest values, but less sure of how your socio-economic status affects your identity. You might also make a commitment and then discover that you want to change that commitment as you gain more experience and understanding.

Remember, that identity is a life-long issue, but it really comes alive in the teenage years. Your identity will continue to evolve as you go through life, so the exploration will continue. But, as a teenager it becomes very clear that you are no longer a child, but an evolving young adult – it often feels like being caught in-between with small leaps of discovery and commitment.

“Owning.” Another way to look at “committing” is to think about “owning” these elements. That’s as simple as saying, “Yes, that’s me.” These are my values. This is how I think about my purpose. These are my activities. This is my sexual orientation. This is what I believe. Etc.

Remember – The Elements in Your Identity Puzzle

⦁ Which are you exploring?
⦁ Which have you committed to/owned?
⦁ Which are still to be explored?

The Core Elements
⦁ Significance
⦁ Purpose
⦁ Characteristics
⦁ Values

The Other Ten Key Elements
⦁ Gender & Sexual Orientation
⦁ Race and Ethnicity
⦁ Activities & Affiliations (sports, the arts, community service…)
⦁ Physical Appearance
⦁ Capabilities
⦁ Culture
⦁ Religion
⦁ Socio-economic Status
⦁ Nation/Region
⦁ Politics

“It is easier to live through someone else than to complete yourself. The freedom to lead and plan your own life is frightening if you have never faced it before. It is frightening when a woman finally realizes that there is no answer to the question 'who am I' except the voice inside herself.”