How often do you give up what you are for what you might become?

Today is August 19 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you give up what you are for what you might become?” People who navigate the chaos remind themselves of the power of becoming who they envision they could be. Of course, this is predicated upon maintaining a belief that you can indeed become someone other than you currently are.

As you go about the today’s grind recall the words of William Edward Burghardt DuBois (W.E.B. DuBois) “The most important thing to remember is this: to be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.”

DuBois was an American sociologist, socialist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer, and editor. Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, DuBois grew up in a relatively tolerant and integrated community, and after completing graduate work at the University of Berlin and Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. DuBois was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

DuBois’ observation deserves some careful consideration here and requires a few points of reflection. First, his declaration that this is ‘the most important thing to remember’ is quite interesting given all the wisdom, knowledge, and advice on how to succeed in life. For DuBois, all the other available information paled in comparison to this observation. The use of the word ‘remember’ is particularly significant since he is reminding the reader to do just that, ‘remember,’ as it is easy to forget amidst the chaos.

Second, his declaration requires one ‘to be ready at any moment.’ With the chaos in your life today and every day, are you ever ready at any moment? Will you allow the chaos to drown out the opportunity before you? Being ready at any moment requires a firm grasp on the present. If you are not ready now, when will you be? Are you already convinced that tomorrow will be busy? If so, are you willing to concede to another day going by where you fail to be ready?

Finally, DuBois’ declaration concluded by stating ‘to give up what you are for what you might become.’ Have you ever given up a prior self to become a new self? Do you understand you have the potential to give up what you are currently for what you might become? If you do not understand how to give up what you are for what you might become that is perfectly fine. The point is to believe you can.

As American pacifist Peace Pilgrim (Mildred Lisette Norman) once said “It always comes back to the thing so many of us wish to avoid, working to improve ourselves.” If you are avoiding the work required to improve yourself, how can you expect to ‘be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become?’ If you are avoiding the work required to be someone you want to be, the path of navigating the chaos will be long, slow, and arduous. Why are you avoiding the work necessary to improve yourself?

If you are avoiding the work to improve yourself, please note the danger of going too far to the extreme and engaging in self-abusive behavior as an avoidance mechanism. As Dr. Steven Stosny wrote in a March 18, 2015 Psychology Today article:

“More often, self-abusive behaviors are attempts to avoid pain or discomfort, as in drinking, drugging, and neglect of health and well-being. It can also take the form of abusing people you love, which may be the worst kind of self-inflicted harm. Self-abusers of all types fail to realize that their numbness, pain, and discomfort comes, in large part, from the illusion that value must be poured into them. Fortunately, buying into this hurtful illusion is merely habit, and habits can be changed. We can develop pressure-resistant habits that employ analysis, reality-testing, foresight, compassion for self and others, and the ability to improve, appreciate, connect, and protect. Remember, you become the person you most want to be by behaving consistently in accordance with your deepest, most humane values.”

Both Stosny and DuBois’ believe in the human potential for one to “become the person you most want to be.” Do you?

Clinical psychologist Barbara Markway, and author of Painfully Shy, suggests three reasons why people struggle with being themselves. “First, we think if we punish ourselves, we will change. Accepting ourselves unconditionally is difficult because we must give up the fantasy that if we punish ourselves enough with negative thoughts, we will change.

Second, we do not believe we deserve self-acceptance. The messages we receive from our culture, others, and ourselves become deeply ingrained, in part due to sheer repetition. Hearing the negative phrase ‘you are too this or that’ (shy, overweight, loud) repeatedly reinforces the idea that something is wrong with us. We internalize the feeling that we are, indeed, defective.

Finally, we believe we are giving up control. Another barrier to self-acceptance, and perhaps the most difficult to overcome, is the belief that we are exerting some sort of meaningful control when we fight against something. Again, this is a Western way of thinking: we must fight to conquer.

In contrast, Eastern philosophy emphasizes ‘going with the flow,’ moving with, not against, the resistance. This shift in thinking can be frightening because it seems we are giving up control, and it can feel like a terrible loss. However, we are not losing; we're gaining tremendous strength. Instead of giving away our power by letting other people determine our worth, we are saying to ourselves, ‘I accept myself today, exactly the way I am.’ By relinquishing control, we gain it.”

Once you accept yourself the way you are, you are free to determine who you want to be. This freedom allows you to determine your worth instead of living up to the expectations of others. All too often, people are afraid to give up who they are for who they may become for fear of disappointing others. Accepting yourself is the first step to becoming the person you are meant to be.

  • How often do you give up what you are for what you might become?

  • Have you engaged in self-abusive behaviors to avoid pain or discomfort? If so, how did that impact your life?

  • How often are you behaving consistently in accordance with your deepest, most humane values?

  • Why do you think so many people avoid working to improve who they are?