When I sat in Davis Library for the first time, I saw that the person sitting across from me had her laptop opened with multiple stickers covering its back. I can still picture almost every single one of them, as I spent nearly 20 minutes admiring her laptop stickers. There were a few band ones (Pink Floyd, Queen, The Rolling Stones), a Joan Didion quote, a typewriter and a quill, her pronouns, and a rainbow flag. What I derived from this 20-minute procrastination session was that she was an old soul, and seemed to have an appreciation for another era. I knew her pronouns were “she/her/hers” and that she was an ally and/or part of the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, I inferred that she had a love for old rock music and American literature. I had neither had a conversation with her nor heard her speak, yet I felt like I knew her personally or, rather, what she portrayed herself to be.
After that, I made a point to look at the back of every person’s laptop, hoping I could get to know them without actually having a conversation. I learned what each person valued, as that would sometimes dominate the space. Many expressed immense school pride, others expressed their political opinions and some had many pop-culture references. Through all the “Free Palestine,” “Fox News and chill” and #GDTBATH stickers, there were some that I liked and some that I did not. Most political opinions I agreed with, but again, some I did not. I decided that I wanted this for myself, for someone to look at my laptop stickers and understand my personality, maybe even use them as a conversation starter. I wanted a medium for personal expression, and the idea of this was perfect for that.
Redbubble seemed to be the most popular site for me to acquire these stickers; however, scrolling through the website and choosing what I wanted gave me an existential crisis.
Yes, you read that right. Choosing stupid laptop stickers became the hardest thing I had to do and what preoccupied my thoughts. I suddenly doubted my whole personality, asking myself questions about perception — trying to understand this complicated means of communication.
I wanted my laptop stickers to correlate with my personality — but at the core of it, what even is my personality? Is my personality just a combination of all the things I like? Am I now a product of what I am expected to be, or is this who I really am? Laptop stickers show other people who I am, so am I willing to spend $40 just to prove to someone else who I am? I was. I wanted a stranger to know who I am, and I did want to be perceived in a particular kind of way. I wanted to be seen from different angles. Of course, I care what people think of me — we all do. I also wanted to understand my personality and try to answer all of these questions to further understand who I am.
I was so desperately trying to figure out how a personality is formed that I actually read up on emotional theories by psychological analysts. I would be lying if I said I remember or even understood each stage of Freud or Erikson’s models; however, I do remember the models showing a split between biology and culture. Personalities come from genetics but also the events around us. A formative experience in one’s life can create a strong core memory that can be the basis of our personality. While looking for stickers, the first things I gravitated toward were music-related ones, maybe because all of my core memories seem to be some way or another related to that. I remember my childhood through my parent’s music, my middle-school years through trashy pop and everything after that through music that really represents my taste.
So, does this mean my personality is just a combination of things I like? Does it change when what I like changes? One of the things discussed in Piaget’s theory of constructivism is that “people who are more cognitively complex will be more successful communicators because they possess the ability to create customized and sophisticated messages that pursue multiple communication goals.” According to this logic, people who have varied interests or understand multiple aspects are more cognitively complex, and can therefore communicate their personality best through laptop stickers. So, does being cognitively complex mean you have a better personality? Is this why I find people who lack multiple interests banal?
I think I am still trying to understand where one’s personality traits come from, and why some make particular things their identity. For some supporting a political party is a part of their identity; for some, it can be the college they attend or even an organization they are a part of. Therefore, it is hard for me to distinguish between interests and the essence of a soul. Are we really defined as what we accomplish in life? The institute we belong to? The career we end up choosing? Of course, being a doctor or an investment banker is a part of your identity, but is it a personality trait? Maybe, it becomes a personality trait if it is driven by passion.
More recently, I have been thinking a lot about passion and along with that facing an internal crisis about who I should be versus who I am. These laptop stickers represent who I am to the world, but I can also trick people into thinking I might be someone I am not. Purchasing a “Mack is Back” sticker can fool people into thinking I care about UNC-Chapel Hill football, and this can very well be followed by some Instagram stories in a blue skirt with the caption “game day vibes.” Things we do, what we wear and what we post all show the world what we want them to see. We have the power to manipulate our identity, and we do so, just proving that we do care what others think of us.
An article in Psychology Today wrote about humans having an interior and exterior landscape. It goes to say that “our interior landscape is our subjective experience of our authentic self, while our exterior landscape is a product of our worldview.” Sometimes, while trying to balance the two, it is possible to lose our essential nature and instead begin seeking others’ approval. In a toxic hope to impress others, our core values and selves can get fogged up, further distancing us from our true selves. To showcase our essential nature, we need to accept our personality and not need to look outside ourselves for validation.
When COVID-19 hit, my laptop usage increased dramatically with all of the Zoom classes, but it came with isolation. My laptop was and has sat on the same desk for the past many months, and the only ones who have been able to see my stickers are the birds outside my window. It did not matter what I painted my personality because no one was there to see it. The only person living with that portrayal was me. I am in a privileged enough position to even question what I want to do with my life and who I want to be, so why not be the truest version possible? While my quest to find what a personality includes continues, I do know I should aim for it to consist of my most authentic self.