07/25/2014 11:48 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

You Must Know Yourself Before You Can Truly Address Your Problems

Everyone needs the help of others at some point in their lives, and many of us are advised to be the best we can be when we seek this support. Many people, though, do not truly know what that means to them. If you do not possess the necessary self-awareness to truly know who you are, how can you possibly expect to know how to become the best you can be?

There are countless paths we can take in determining who we are, but everyone should remember this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: "For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else."

18-year-old Jake, you had much to learn.

I always thought I had a good idea of who I was, but after attending three colleges in three years, I used to wonder if I had missed out on opportunities to develop new friendships by not settling down at one school sooner. I then realized dwelling on situations that did not turn out how I had anticipated was to assume that it was time poorly spent.

We are often told that our failures exist to teach us lessons, but reflecting on them in only broad contexts can prevent us from realizing what we specifically accomplished or endured during those darker times.

During my freshman year at Adrian College, I began to have trust issues with my girlfriend and her group of friends in what was my first real relationship. We stayed together months longer than we should have. Considering there was absolutely no chance of it ever being a healthy relationship again, let alone one with a future, many would look at this time of overstaying each other's welcome as an automatic failure, a dead zone in time, a wasted opportunity to enjoy the single life or find a more suitable significant other.

But as I began to reflect on what went wrong, I inadvertently became much more aware of myself and those around me. I imagined as many scenarios as I could for any given situation and did the same for the motives of a person's actions in these scenarios. I became much more cognizant of the ideas and opinions of not only others, but mine as well. I also began to recall signs of behavior from others that foreshadowed situations that I now knew I wanted to avoid in the future.

After finishing my second semester at Adrian, I spent a year at Macomb Community College before transferring to Oakland University, where I will graduate from this December.

I still like to think about how my college career would have played out if I had transferred straight to Oakland when I first felt I had a reason to end that relationship, but if I had walked away from Adrian's campus for good that Christmas break, I don't think I would be anywhere near the person I am today.

This is a crux that so many of us succumb to. We can worry so much about seeking change that we fail to reflect on why we are facing our personal dilemmas, then we fail to identify the signs that foreshadowed them. You cannot truly move on from your problems if you have yet to learn how to prevent them from reoccurring.

It's tempting for many to imagine how different their lives would be if they had made different choices, but the skills and insights that can be acquired from becoming self-aware are far more effective in seeing that change through.

This is where Emerson's words come in. Ignoring or leaving our problems behind can relieve stress, but at what cost? We must realize that no matter what we do, there is something to gain and something to lose. What do you want that something to be?