20: One more step.

- January 29, 2017 -

Lately, I’ve found myself doing a lot of thinking about the distinction between ‘becoming’ and ‘having become.’

At what point, or after how much time, do we transition from being on our way to having arrived? Is it better to focus on becoming, and simply be content with the ups and downs of that process, or should we structure our lives in such a way that sets us up ‘to become’ — to finalize, to add another achievement to our trophy case — as often as possible?

These were some of the questions I’d been wrestling with over the past few weeks, in the wake of the new year, as I attempted to sit down and come up with some sort of a personal trajectory for 2017.

. . .

As I raced my way through A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors, though, I came across some choice words from writer Lee Montgomery which did wonders for helping put this dilemma into perspective.

In the book, she pinpoints one specific interaction as being a moment of great significance in her career — but, even so, she still suggests that the overall effect had more to do with a kind of continual becoming than it did with having definitively become:

“The experience changed my life. … It was also another step toward becoming the writer I have become, which, it seems even after twenty years, means ‘the writer I am still becoming’ as I mostly bump along as if following crumbs through the forest, looking to the sky, awaiting my instructions.”

When I reflected back upon some of the most significant moments in my own life, I realized that, really, it was just as she’d said: at the time, this moment and that moment had seemed like very definitive, decisive points of completion — but, soon after, usually around the time that a new goal or setback came onto the horizon, the significance of these events shifted from ‘monumentally conclusive’ to ‘just another step.’

Might it be the case, then, that even the most ambitious, life-changing goals are simply meant to be regarded as signposts, as a way for us to check in with ourselves and see if we’re headed in more or less the right direction?

Maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to place so much emphasis on choosing the ‘proper’ goals, or the ‘best’ goals. Instead, maybe we can take a step back and recognize that no matter what goal we choose to pursue — and no matter the outcome — it isn’t going to be the be-all-end-all: it will simply be one additional step forward.


Waving from my desk,
– J


This piece comes from Jana Marie’s newsletter, The Sunday Letters. You can sign up to receive future editions below.