“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ~Lao Tzu
I was around twelve years old as I sat in the career day presentation. I can’t remember one word that was said. It might as well have been the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons speaking in that esoteric adult language.
It was the day I made my first practical life decision. In seventh grade, I boldly decided I would be a dentist—for absolutely no meaningful reason. I chose because society was insisting upon it.
I held onto this idea for a decade before entering dental school. I did exceptionally well, but two years in, I realized that something wasn’t right. Turns out, I hated general dentistry.
However, it was the path I had chosen, so I stuck with it.
I completed school and decided to pursue the challenging path of oral and maxillofacial surgery. It was exciting, and exhausting, and…empty.
Two years in, I realized something wasn’t right.
I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t quite resonate with me in a way I felt it should. Nonetheless, I stuck with it because it was the path I had chosen. I declared I was to be an oral surgeon and come hell or high water that was what I would be.
I finished my residency and started my professional career. After thirteen years of education, you would think there would be a sense of accomplishment and relief. There was, but unfortunately, it was short-lived.
Two years later, I realized something wasn’t right. Again.
That was around the time I started exploring my creative self again—the self I had put on on hold for twenty years while pursuing a career path that I mistakenly believed defined me. I finally understood that I had to give myself permission to be a work in progress – to evolve beyond a definition of self that didn’t quite fit.
Like many others, I struggled with thinking I had made a wrong decision. Only time has allowed me to see that there are no mistakes as long as we learn from imperfect choices. There is value in every step of the journey.
I had to find (and am still finding) my balance of what truly makes me the valuable person that I am. Most of all, I had to embrace the fluidity of life. I believe this is what Lao Tzu meant by his words.
I had to learn to stop fighting against flow.
The illusion of “I am that” holds many of us captive in prisons of our own making. In the struggle to define ourselves as individuals, we often paint ourselves into lonely and sometimes dangerous corners.
Gender, sexual orientation, politics, religion, race—although we may belong to a particular group, it is the over-identification with that group that separates us from the next individual. We become stunted in growth when we cling to these outward labels.
We can even become over-identified with the roles we play such as spouse, parent, or child. What happens when circumstances change? Does this explain the ex who can’t let go or the overbearing parent of an adult child?
Our titles, our affiliations, and even our closest relationships don’t define the cores of who we are. “I am that” leads to stagnation. It blocks our journey to wholeness.
We’re all divine beings derived from the same source. We’re all on a quest to return to our authentic selves rooted in love.
We often fail to remember that our commonality is the only identification that matters.
We resist the natural rhythms of transformation when we hang onto our roles, titles, and other false identities (e.g. victim). As we release our narrow self-definitions, we are able to transform into the highest versions of ourselves.
Spiritual progression requires that we learn to welcome flow.
What misguided visions of yourself do you hold? What constraints have you placed around yourself to impede your own evolution? What must you let go of to become who you might be?
Photo by Pusteblumenland
Dr. F. Emelia Sam is a writer, speaker, and oral surgeon in the Washington, DC region. She is the author of I Haven’t Found Myself but I’m Still Looking and How to Create the Life You Really Want: 20 Small Strategies for Big Changes.
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