Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Over the last couple of years, Iris has undertaken several significant new endeavors. She decided to become a singer and join a performing band, she decided to become a writer, and more recently, she decided to become a runner.

A couple of weeks ago, Iris added to her list of endeavors deciding to become a trumpet player. She ordered an intermediate trumpet on-line and has been looking out the door every half hour or so for the last day seeing if the delivery driver might have dropped it off without ringing the bell.

You might have noticed that I didn't say that Iris had decided to learn to write or that she had decided to take singing lessons. That would have been an inaccurate representation of what she's done. The verb that best describes her approach is to become. Iris has decided to become a singer, a writer, a runner, and now, a trumpet player.

I think the transformation from trying, studying or playing around with to becoming took place early, and rather quickly.

A couple of years ago, we'd started jamming weekly with our friend Pete. Iris had met Pete in the coffee shop and he'd invited her to a solo gig at Club Helsinki. After the first set, Pete came and sat with us. A few minutes into the conversation, Iris invited Pete to our house to jam. Our informal, weekly get-together involved me on keyboards, Pete on guitar, and Iris mainly listening and occasionally singing or playing percussion. We slowly developed a set of songs that we all knew, some covers and some originals.

One day, Pete (who also ran the sound systems at the club) raced into the coffee shop exclaiming that the evening's band had just cancelled and that he wanted to pull together a band for that night. He'd already found a bass player, a drummer and a second guitar player. If we were up for it, then we had a band and a gig.

That night, Iris found herself on stage singing and playing djembe in an honest-to-goodness professional venue. We had a great time and the crowd enjoyed us thoroughly. The next morning, Iris walked into the kitchen and told me, "Wow, I am a singer and drummer in a band!"

The notion of being was transformative. It quickly spread its roots in Iris' psyche and has continued to grow.

I believe that the notion has had a powerful impact on Iris' ability to accomplish all the activities she's undertaken.

One might argue that this is simply a game of semantics or that it's a cute but insignificant difference. However, I would suggest otherwise. Over the years, I've known many people who've wanted to play piano or start a business or run a marathon. They didn't view themselves as musicians or entrepreneurs or marathoners, but instead, as someone interested in the activity. Most of those people are still interested in those activities and speak often of them. They've just never actually done them, or at least not on a sustained basis.

I've found that there's a level of commitment that comes with declaring yourself a writer or an entrepreneur or an athlete that can't be achieved otherwise. If as a novice you've ever been asked to declare that you are thus-and-such, you've probably experienced a sense of hesitation. Oh, no, I'm just a beginner. Well, I play a little bit here and there, but I'm not really a musician. Your response is likely full of apologetics and excuses.

However, once you declare, it's as though you've put yourself on the hook to deliver. You forgo the grace period afforded novices and beginners. There's no more: hey, she's doing quite well for someone who's just started!

In this situation, you have two fundamental choices: quit or be. Deciding to be (an artist, an author, an anthropologist) can be remarkably empowering. You get past trying to learn everything an anthropologist should know, and instead, focus on what an anthropologist needs to know to address the current challenge. By simply being an anthropologist, you get past all the requirements of certification and study, and move into doing. And doing is a great filter for deciding what to study and learn.

So, are you a studier or a becomer? What's an area of your life where you've dabbled, but never become? How would it change your perspective to work on becoming rather than not? What would change if you simply declared?

Happy Wednesday,

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