An ode to unbecoming

Future of Being

The people I love being around the most are those who are masters of unbecoming. They are unafraid to evolve, unlearn old habits, unmask different parts of themselves and find new ways of being in the world. But they weren’t born that way. Embracing unbecoming is a challenging and often lonely journey that can threaten your closest relationships and make you question intrinsic parts of your identity. In my mind, the art of unbecoming is a transformative skill everyone should strive to learn at some point over their lives, but the power of learning to unbecome earlier in life is magnificent. If you learn how to unbecome in your 20s, you are taking advantage of the first time in your life when you can consciously shape your own mind, unencumbered by institutional forces or parental pressures. Before this point, you are simply a complex product of culture, environmental design and instructional quality (it’s not personal, we all are). By unbecoming early on, you will live the rest of your life in a completely different way.

In order to unbecome, you first need to understand how you have become who you are. This capacity is remarkably rare in and of itself. One (but certainly not the only) reason for this, is because many people default to maintaining an external-facing state of attention. This means that people are more concerned about the desires, beliefs, opinions and needs of the people around them, than they are about their own desires, beliefs, opinions and needs. One common manifestation of this external-facing state of attention is people-pleasing.

In its essence, people-pleasing is one of the most effective ways to avoid knowing ourselves. The people-pleaser thrives on stifling her self-expression and revels in the righteous feeling of never expressing a single desire to those around her. Preoccupying herself with the eternal task of satisfying others is one of the easiest ways to avoid asking herself: “what is it that I really want?” This constant preoccupation with others’ needs and desires means that it becomes impossible for the people-pleaser to truly know herself. And if you do not know how you have become who you are, it is impossible to throw yourself into the process of unbecoming.

To resolve this, the people-pleaser must focus in on her own internal signals, away from technology or other distracting stimulus. She must occupy an inward-facing state of attention that is exclusively focused on the self. And no, this doesn’t mean she needs to shy away from humanity for the rest of time. She simply needs to cultivate a small container of space uninhibited by others. Interestingly, another method to resolve people-pleasing tendencies is to inhabit different spaces with the aim of revealing different faces. Going to improv classes, taking up a new hobby, or expressing a new form of creativity are all ways of uncovering new versions of ourselves. Over time, these methods enable the people-pleaser to stop being as distracted by the needs and desires of others and re-engage with the embodied needs of the self. This marks the beginning of unbecoming.

I often write about the infinite loop of learning → unlearning → relearning in the context of education and work. But I’m realising that the holistic process of becoming → unbecoming → re-becoming in the context of the self justifies as much, if not more, of a conversation.

February 13, 2024