April 5th, 2021

The Value of Becoming

by Karen DeBonis

I’ll soon have my second Covid vaccine, and I’m already making my TJ Maxx shopping list, planning lunch dates with equally-immunized friends, and looking at flights to…anywhere. One thing I dread about venturing out in the world again, though, is running into acquaintances who may ask, “So, how’s that book coming along?”

Perhaps I had run into these casual friends in pre-Covid days when I declared my manuscript accomplit. Perhaps last year, they saw a social media post where I shared my excitement and trepidation about querying literary agents. Or, they might know me from 20 years ago, when I first started writing my memoir.

My short answer would be, “It’s coming along.” (For my long answer, keep reading.)

My Bout of Imposter Syndrome

Last December, I sat hunched over my laptop at my dining room table, glowering at sentences and paragraphs that would not gel. I was attempting to write a piece for this site—the award-winning, chock-full-of-wisdom Writers in the Storm blog—and it was clear to me I was an imposter. It was clear, at least to me, that I did not belong.

What could I, an emerging author, possibly offer to readers that the many seasoned, published authors who write here could not say a hundred times better? What could I possibly add to the conversation when I didn’t know what the heck I was doing?

Before chucking my laptop out the window, I reached out to Jenny Hansen to ask her to remind me why, exactly, she had invited me to write here. 

A Surprising Perspective

As usual, Jenny knew just what to say:

“I firmly believe that your perspective of ‘becoming’ is extraordinarily valuable.”

It was like sitting in the pre-dawn quiet and awakening to the realization of birds chirping. I didn’t connect the dots yet, but I had already identified for myself the worth of “becoming.” And I didn’t know it yet, but “becoming” would be integral to my emerging author brand.

Jenny’s words were so powerful, I posted them on my “bulletin board.”

The focus of my memoir and most of my writing is the destructive consequences of people-pleasing. In 2016, when I tiptoed into the public spaces of blogging and social media, I noticed  that most people who use hashtags like #peoplepleasing, #peoplepleaser. and #peoplepleasernomore were therapists or life coaches. If I posted that I lacked the wherewithal to ask the grocery store bagger to put the tomatoes on top, a half-dozen people replied with suggestions on how to do it next time, or to ask me how I felt about the outcome, or what I could have done differently.

I believe we all need a place to vent and express ourselves without someone trying to solve our problem. The intent of my social media posts was to say, “Look how silly I’m being. Can you relate?” It’s the same reason we post “life’s a bi***" photos of spilled coffee, flat tires, and cats dragging toilet paper throughout the house. Do you feel my pain? we want to know. Often, a “yes” gives us permission to smile and get back on the day's merry-go-round.

When I share a personal story of vulnerability on my website or on social media my intent is to be heard, not to be fixed. I can call my therapist for that. And when the roles are reversed—when I read a personal story by a kindred spirit—their vulnerability gives me a lens through which to view my own behavior, which heightens my self-understanding.

In her book, The Disease to Please (truly the bible of people-pleasing), the late  Harriet B. Braiker, Ph.D. writes, “Sometimes we can see in others what we can’t see clearly in ourselves.”

Society endorses the value of having arrived with thousands of books, articles, and posts espousing helpful (and sometimes unhelpful) ways to accomplish X, Y, or Z. But the value in becoming is the support we provide our traveling companions as we move toward our common destination. Support from the trenches feels different—more immediate, more real—than advice coming from those already there.

Clearly we all need advice from experts. I need all the advice I can get, and I take advantage of every webinar, article, and post that is relevant to my writing and stage of becoming.

A Personal Turning Point

In February, I made a long-overdue decision to update my website. I hired a web designer to do the heavy IT lifting, but I had to decide the content and write the copy. And I had to figure out what my site was all about.

*gulp*

In our strategy calls, we talked through messaging. My web guru suggested common headings like “Ten ways to…” and “Five steps to….” None of it felt right. Although I’d started to recover from my disease to please, I still relapsed, and I wasn’t ready to impart “how-to” wisdom.

Plus, I’d discovered when I posted embarrassing failures—like not texting my friend to see if she got the gift I’d left in her mailbox because I didn’t want to bug her—people reached out to me privately to share their own weak moments. They knew I wouldn't judge them. How could I when I still walked in their shoes?

In her best-selling book, Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says, “If you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

Being in the arena—being a work in process—was the gem I had to offer. And because I had shown up online day after day when I had a success to share—for example, telling my hairstylist that, no, I could not move my appointment up—followers could imagine themselves having success, too.

My website needed to convey that I was approachable, that I understood, that I was in the process of fighting my way out of the arena, but I wasn’t there yet. I wasn’t ready to proselytize on “how-to” overcome people-pleasing, but I was an expert in “how I grew more assertive."

That’s when I realized becoming is an end in itself.

The phrase “becoming emboldened” popped into my head seemingly from nowhere, but really, it was Jenny’s comment, right there on my bulletin board, coming to life. It was early morning birdsong all over again.

You can see the end results on my website here and here.

Final Thoughts

Someday, I’ll arrive at a place where assertiveness comes more easily to me, and I’ll know I have arrived. I’ll need to update my website and change my taglines, and I might even write a “how-to” book. For now, becoming fulfills me.

Someday, I’ll look forward to running into acquaintances, hoping they’ll ask about my book so I can reply with those three coveted words: It is published. I know I’ll have arrived as an author.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to show up here from time to time, embracing all I have to learn, and all I have to share in the process of becoming.

Where are you in the process of becoming and when will you know you’ve arrived? Please share your thoughts down in the comments.

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Karen

Karen began writing twenty years ago after her eleven-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Those early pages are now a real-life medical mystery about a mother who must overcome her toxic agreeability if she's to save herself and her son. The manuscript is currently available for representation.

A happy empty-nester with her husband of thirty-nine years, Karen lives and writes in upstate New York. You can find out more about her journey at www.KarenDeBonis.com.

Top Image from Depositphotos. Middle image by John Hain from Pixabay.

15 responses to “The Value of Becoming”

  1. Inspiring article. I'm becoming also. Thanks!

  2. crbwriter says:

    Thank you for permission to be in-between! I consistently receive honorable mention or runner-up recognition for my stories. I see arriving as finding representation and finally publishing. But my guess is that when I've arrived, I'll notice another peak in front of me, and start climbing. So maybe I need to be pretty happy about a persistent state of becoming.

    • Honorable mention or runner-up isn't a bad in-between place to hang out for awhile--kudos for coming that far! But it's not the same thing as publishing, I know. I hope you climb that peak soon, and the next and the next peak. More growth is rarely a bad thing, and if you can be happy along the way, you're ahead of the crowd. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. Micky Wolf says:

    Beautiful post, Karen! Inspiring and uplifting! And as others have commented, I believe becoming is a life journey. To become is an unfolding process of being fully alive. Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Becoming. Yes, that's been my journey. I was raised to be a silent people pleaser where there were penalties for failure. I eventually earned a degree in it before I was dumped into a world that scoffed at such people. So, I fumbled and I stumbled and I crashed a lot, the last handhold being writing. From there, I climbed towards becoming. I write heroines who face great adversity while also trying to become. In a dream last night, someone I don't remember told me, "Everyone keeps telling you to be happy, Christina. Has anyone ever shown you?" I answered, "No," and woke up. Maybe, though, that isn't completely true. My heroines show me. Thank you so much for this post. It literally stole my breath.

    I received my second dose on April 2nd. It's a great feeling. Thanks again.

    • What a prophetic dream, Christina! It's so interesting that for both of us, writing played such a key role in our becoming, and that we achieved it through different genres. I hope your heroines continue to show you the way. I took a quick peek at your website, and with your medical history, you must be super relieved to be fully vaccinated. (I also got mine on April 2nd.) Thank you for your comment and the connection.

  5. dholcomb1 says:

    Hopefully, it will hit me clear on the head, leaving me no doubt.

    denise

    • And hopefully it won't involve pain or scarring, lol! I believe sometimes the universe conks us on the head with a two-by-four when nothing more subtle has gotten our attention. I'm sure you'll know it when it happens, Denise, and I hope it's everything you've dreamed of! Thanks for your comment.

  6. Jenny Hansen says:

    Karen, this post confirms what I've always believed - we have to put ourselves out there because we never know who we will lift up or inspire. Thank you for your kind words, and I am SO GLAD you are embracing your beautiful state of BECOMING. 🙂

    • Jenny, for the past few days, I was back to becoming my gardener self as I do in the spring, so I just now saw your comment. My apologies for the delay! Thank you for the opportunity, inspiration, and support to continue this journey. You are the best.

  7. Thank you for this thoughtful perspective. I believe after all your hard work you will blink one day and discover you have arrived.

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