Remember that old disco diva anthem I Am What I Am?
Has your brain just carried on the lyrics and shot back
…And what I am needs no excuses?
The problem with this song is there are some missing lyrics. Gloria forgot a massively important word….
Let’s look at the difference between
(A) I am what I am and
(B) I am what I am becoming
(A) is all about standing proud and daring your critics to put you down. It’s a statement to the world.
(B) is all about an inner dialogue with your inner critic that helps you transform from a state of disempowerment to reclaiming your life.
I am what I am definitely has its place. Think Pride parades, think Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, think the gawky kid at school who finds their tribe of non-cheerleader goths who accept them as they are.
I am what I am becoming has been a much more useful motto for me in my own recovery from compulsive eating and journey from sugar to exercise addict as well as other changes such as changing career and ending my marriage.
That statement to the world I am what I am doesn’t really help when your inner world is in turmoil, because you have no clear “I am” to proudly show off. Our brains are wired to dislike change, whatever easy truth the latest motivational guru might try to peddle. To stand up to this ancient mechanism is going to be confusing and uncomfortable. The real experience of I am what I am for many people is better expressed in this clip from Popeye. Robin Williams is saying ‘I am loud and proud’ but just look at the way he expresses it. Despite the macho front, Popeye just looks really confused to me. What do you think?
We have no such safe haven as humans in transition. We have to connect to inner resources we never knew we had, resources like curiosity that the world is telling us we don’t have (“Go on, just another slice. Come to the pub, missing your walk won’t hurt. What are you like! Such a chocoholic”)
We have to move beyond the sound bites of “you must love yourself to change” (What a load of old nonsense. Part of my transformation shedding my denial and accepting things I really, really didn’t like about myself. I replaced ‘love’ with ‘get curious about’ in that sentence). The great news is that once I had done that uncomfortable work, I was able to accept those things and move on.
Hence the extra word ‘becoming’.
When you say ‘I am what I am becoming’ you allow your old ways that held you back to fall into disuse, the old toxic truths that used to keep you in your place become as disposable as the chrysalis is for the newly emerging butterfly – and you allow yourself the space to move into the new you.
Ironically, it is at this point you can put on Gloria Gaynor and say to the world ‘I am what I am’ – imperfectly powerful and beautifully scarred.
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