I don’t often get responses from my readers to my weekly blogs. After my last one on Doing, Having, or Being, however, a reader emailed me, “So what about Becoming?” “Thank you,” I responded. “You’ve just given me the topic for my next blog.” And so here I am again, and, here, dear readers, is my take on Becoming...
The English word becoming is an interesting one. As the present participle of the verb to become, it means “beginning to be” or “developing into.” For example, “I am becoming a doctor or a forest ranger.” The verb can also mean “changing states” as “After all this hiking, I’m becoming tired.” In addition, both the intransitive verb and the participle can mean that an article of clothing or a new hairstyle looks good on an individual. Consider “That new sweater is very becoming on you.” Or “I love your asymmetrical haircut. It really becomes you.” In either case—developing into or looking good in something new—the idea is that the transformation is positive. The medical student who worked hard is now finally a doctor, or the new sweater that recently arrived in the mail has been getting lots of compliments.
Like power, to be sure, becoming can lead to negative as well as positive outcomes. Here’s a case in point. Someone says to a close friend, “I’ve just gone bankrupt. I’m afraid I’m becoming poor.” Or “I just tested positive for Covid—one of the few times when positive means something negative—and I’m really becoming sick.” Still, if we’ve prioritized Being above Doing and Having, then the hope is that we will each become that unique, fulfilled individual who lives up to their greatest potential. A big part of the latter is, as Socrates and before him the Sibylle advised, getting to know ourselves. For example, if you live in a family of successful businesspeople, they may be pressing the young you to follow suit. This is especially true if there’s a family business, and you’re the only child. Of course, you can do no other than take it over. But let’s say you’re not interested in business and feel you have no talent for it. On the other hand, you loved your high-school English classes and teacher. So, you’d really like to become an English teacher. But in your house that’s a nonstarter. “What? You’d let our successful 40-year-old brokerage business die. Don’t you know that schoolteachers don’t make any money! We’ll start you at $100,000/year, and that as just an apprentice. We’ll teach you the business. You’d have a wonderful lifestyle, and by 50 you’ll likely be able to retire with a million-dollar nest egg.” That’s the sort of thing I heard growing up. But I knew myself better and somehow had the courage of my convictions. I became a college English teacher and eventually an academic dean and university vice-president. I also started writing books, and now, at 83, I’ve launched 12 of them into the world. To my credit I was able to hear and follow my inner promptings, and to borrow words from Robert Frost, that has made all the difference.