Thoughts on ‘becoming’

For our book event at Waterstones Deansgate in Manchester last week, inspired by Michelle Obama’s memoir, Daisy Buchanan and I were asked to each write and read a paragraph on the word ‘becoming’ and what it meant to us as women and professionals. Typically, we produced a little more than a paragraph. Here’s what we wrote.

Lauren —

When I first got my book deal, I waited to become a proper Book Writer.

I imagined the old me would fall to the side and a new “Author Lauren” would emerge. She would be hunched over her laptop from dusk till dawn, frantically typing, with biscuits in her hair. She would rarely get dressed, or else she would wear a weird jumble sale assortment of scarves and baggy knitwear, with her hair wound into a bun with a pen. She would cancel plans all over the place and stop replying to WhatsApps for three months, but nobody would mind because everybody would know she was so absorbed in her art.

Author Lauren would live in her authorly bubble as the rest of the world slid past the window. She would dig down deep and find a superhuman level of strength and focus she never knew she had. She would become something new. Better.

I waited for her, and then I panicked when she never showed up.

I panicked when I just couldn’t seem to click my brain into the right gear, to unlock those bonus reserves of energy and stamina that would see me writing all night because the words were flowing out of me so fast. I felt guilty and embarrassed that I was still putting on makeup in the morning, and socialising, and watching Netflix and going to bed before midnight.

“Oh my god, you must be so stressed! I can’t believe you’re out!” people would say down the pub. “Hahaha so stressed” I would laugh nervously. And I was stressed, but for all the wrong reasons.

It was the same at university. I waited to become the serious academic I thought I was supposed to be. Someone who found existential meaning in Chaucer and wrote feverish 2am essays smoking cigarettes and possibly wearing a beret. I had a desk, but I wrote every single essay sat on my bed, eating flapjacks and giving myself sciatica. I didn’t set foot in the library till my second year. I took one of my first year exams without having read any of the books. Studious Lauren never emerged.

But here’s the thing — the book got written. The essays got finished. The degree got done. While I was waiting for the better, stronger, more dynamic versions of myself to emerge and dazzle everybody, the real life version of myself was plodding on and doing perfectly fine in the meantime.

Striving for change and betterment is part of the human experience. It always has been; it’s basic evolution (though I should probably admit that Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of the Species was one of the set texts I never read for that exam). But this is especially true today, I think, in a culture obsessed with self-improvement — and doubly especially true if you’re a woman.

So often, as women, we’re made to feel like rough prototype versions of ourselves that need to be constantly upgraded. A better haircut, a fuller diary, a harder-working attitude. So often we feel that whatever we are, we ought to be becoming something else. I suspect it’s the reason I’ve made new year’s resolutions every January and given something up every Lent for as long as I can remember, while my boyfriend never even considers it.

And often, I think, we tend to think about the process of ‘becoming’ as a kind of tension and discomfort. Something that requires us to hold our breath with exertion. But what if, instead, becoming the best, strongest and most dynamic version of yourself is actually more like exhaling? What if it’s shaking off some of that tension, breathing out, and making peace with the person you are right now?

I still panic that I’m not pushing myself hard enough, or reaching far enough, or evolving into the person I’m supposed to be, but all the while, the stuff still gets done. Life gets lived. And I’m becoming more ok with that.

What Would The Spice Girls Do? is out now.

Daisy —

Becoming is the work of a lifetime. Even though I wrote a book called How To Be A Grown Up, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, or rather, who I’ll be. The world constantly shifts and evolves, and we do too.

I think that in many cases our grandmothers, and maybe even our mothers, ‘became’ quite early on. Once, it was the case that there really only was one acceptable way for a woman to be, and so you were told who you were — or somehow found the courage to live differently, but with difficulty. The fact that we can keep becoming, shifting, changing and altering is a privilege many of us are lucky to experience as a result of being alive right now. I never want to forget how fortunate I am. I never want to be frightened of change, when change is a time for growth and opportunity.

Perhaps most significantly, if we keep becoming, we can keep getting better. And my definition of ‘better’ is the one that, over the years, has changed the most of all. When I was a teenager, I wanted to become just like a woman in an Elle feature, and I dreamed about living in a little London flat, with a cool job, fabulous clothes and fabulous friends. I became that woman — well, a version of it — but then I wanted to become a loved woman, and I craved the security of a happy romantic relationship. I’ve wanted to become thinner and richer and better at yoga.

I’m still crap at yoga, but I did become a loved woman, and that’s when I realised that I had so much work to do. That as long as I was alive, it was down to me to keep trying to be kinder, wiser, and more generous, patient and empathetic. And while I don’t believe any of us can ever be enough of any of those things, we can keep becoming better every day. Becoming gives us hope, and a chance to keep trying, but it also gives us a chance to build the world we’d like to live in.

How To Be A Grown Up is out now, and The Sisterhood is available to pre-order here.