The Process of Becoming

I’m not one for resolutions. I’ve tried it, made lists, and ended up discarding it halfway through the year. I’m still not sure if it’s because the list was unachievable, or because I kept getting swept into so many streams of life in 365 days. One thing I do consistently though, is the act of reflection. It’s a rare time in the year when most things come to a slow churn. There’s enough space in the mind to think back on situations and ponder on how to do better next time.

For example, one of my unofficial resolutions this year was to read outside of my comfort zone, like reading non-fiction or listening to podcasts. The idea was to expose myself to new ideas, outside of my current surroundings. Podcasts were especially great at this — correction, Freakonomics was great at this. In a recent, and very unlikely episode, the radio podcast covered the topic of rock-and-roll bands.

The interview featured former member of a rock band, Warren Zanes, who also wrote a biography on another rock artist, Tom Petty.

Zanes joined his brother’s rock band at the age of 17 as a guitarist. During his 5 years with the band, Zanes described the experience as being part of a tribe. He was exposed to many well-known personalities within the rock-and-roll scene, like Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty. At the age of 22, after being worn down by the music business, Zanes decided to leave the band and start on his own. Or so that was the plan. Zanes shared a moment he had with Tom Petty after leaving the band. Petty had asked what Zanes would be up to next, and when young Zanes shares his plan to stay in Los Angeles to start fresh, Petty tells him, “This isn’t where bands come from. You should go home.”

Zanes confessed that he didn’t understand why Petty had told him that at the time, but in retrospect, he drew parallels of rock bands that began charting their beginnings, or gathered their bearings again, from their hometowns. “They did their ‘becoming’ [there].”

This struck a cord with me, the word “becoming”. I was caught in how Zanes had used it, like it was soup, simmering quietly on low heat. What he meant, of course, is the evolution and growth of bands. Except this “becoming” isn’t limited to just a group, or an idea. People could go through a process of becoming too.

We usually describe this as potential — the sense that something or someone is on his or her way to becoming extraordinary, exceeding previously set expectations, and starting to show the anticipated high results. The Holy Grail path being that there is a long-term or short-term finish line waiting to be crossed to achieve that success.

But there’s the less shiny aspect of it, the unsure state of “becoming”. There is no clear plan in this, and it’s left to the experimentation and the growth that comes out of this experimentation. This is a new, if a rare concept, in our culture/society (be it the UAE, or anywhere else in the world — it’s a risk), where we’re constantly egged by family to just “become” and reach the state of stability. When we do come across stories of certain “becomings”, we see it as these one-off success stories of certain unique individuals, and even categorize their journeys as the final evolution of success.

The way I see it, and certainly the way Zanes explains it, the process of becoming is constant. It’s going through the maze and coming into your space, growing into yourself. I didn’t realize it until I heard the term that it is exactly where I am at the moment. It’s something I started looking forward to every year — the becoming. What kind of woman I’ll become, what kind of writer I’ll become, or even on a basic level — what kind of human am I going to become?

The state of becoming, at least to me, also means accepting that rough situations are there to build you from the ground up. It puts down the foundations from both interesting and unfavorable experiences. It’s accepting that the road to the end goal isn’t entirely fluid, but volatile.

For Zanes, after waiting around for his music career to pick up again, he decided to take a few classes in order to stay in a relationship. To show even further how he was reluctant to move on with his life, he picked a university that’s within walking distance because he didn’t want to walk too far. He signed up for Philosophy and Women’s Literature classes — and enjoyed them so much, he went on to get his PhD in visual and cultural studies.

“I really worked hard. I worked pretty quickly. But I was reshaped,” Zanes had said in the interview. “…That was my process of ‘becoming’.”

This process, according to Zanes, was 12 years in the making, which is quite a considerable amount of time. My take from this, and the sense I got the more I listened to Zanes, is that it’s true that the process of becoming can happen so unexpectedly, but at the same time, people should be wary of missing out on what’s in the world. Either find your place, or be forgotten. But the key is to keep going.

That’s my unofficial resolution for 2016 — to get carried away with my process of becoming. And listening to more Freakonomics, of course.