The Secret to Becoming Who You’ve Always Wanted to Be

true self

Photo Credit: Bigstock (vkara)

I once knew an artist who told me about a sculpture he wanted to carve out of wood. He said he had a vision for it in his mind’s eye. Then a week passed. And then two. And then three. I assumed he was procrastinating.

When I asked him about it, he smiled and said, “Kelly, I can’t create what I want to create in just any block of wood. Every piece of wood has different grains and different textures. If you carve against the grain—try to force it into something it is not—you will crack the wood and ruin the sculpture. The shape of any creation is already in the wood. I just help it to become the shape that it already is.”

It’s true of wood, and it’s true of people.

You already are what you are becoming.

It’s not a new idea. As someone once said, all wisdom is borrowed. But it was new to me when I first encountered it in Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen, where the spiritual guide writes,

I can only look for something that I have, to some degree, already found. How can I search for beauty and truth unless that beauty and truth are already known to me in the depth of my heart? …We were innocent before we started feeling guilty; we were in the light before we entered into the darkness; we were at home before we started to search for a home. Deep in the recesses of our minds and hearts there lies hidden the treasure we seek.

It was the most transformative idea I’d ever encountered. I looked inside of myself, and I looked around, and I saw that we all long to do something good that will prove we’re good enough. We long to be loved by someone who will make us feel loveable. We long to create something out in the world that will create a worthy identity inside of us.

But we already are that which we long to become.

We already are our own unique version of good enough, loveable, and worthy.

Life isn’t about identity formation; it’s about identity recognition. Being human isn’t about finding an existence worth living, it’s about finding out how to live from the worthiness already existing within us.

You don’t build what you are; you chip away at what you are not.

We are, each of us, like blocks of wood, and becoming our true selves is the gradual process of carving away the excess and steadily becoming more and more the shape of what we already are. We spend too much time trying to carve against the grain of who we are—a kind of on-going self-rejection, a way of stubbornly insisting we aren’t good enough and we need to become something different.

Discovering our true selves begins by trusting there is a shape buried within us, and it is already good enough, loveable, and worthy.

Several weeks after I asked my artist friend about his delay, I spoke with him again, and he was giddy with excitement. He told me he’d found what he thought was the right piece of wood, and he’d begun his work. He was thrilled, because he was about to watch the beauty emerge. And his happiness was grace, because grace is the delight that happens when someone or Someone sees us and sees the beautiful shape already residing somewhere within us.

Grace doesn’t necessarily change anything about us; it simply sees who we’ve always been.

And grace creates places of belonging—spaces of carving—where we join with those who can see who we are and what we are becoming, to carve out of all our unnecessary parts—all the confusion and false starts and loneliness and self-rejection—even as we join them in the carving out of who they are.

All of us are worthy of people like that. Because you may be a mess, but you’re also, already, what you are becoming. You are beautiful, and you are beloved.

Happy chiseling.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Shannon Sprague

    <3 LOVE <3 for so many reasons and on so many levels. We can help children with this process early in life, as their parents, recognizing what gets them out of bed, lights them up, makes their socks roll up and down 🙂 and then provide them with opportunities to indulge in such delights. I'm finishing massage therapy school and have had many many jobs (physical therapist, yoga teacher, reiki master, human resource, wellness coach and on and on and on). At times, friends and family have said "oh there she goes, back to school AGAIN." Guess I was looking for just the right piece of wood. My new job sure feels like I've found it! Stephen Cope wrote a great book to support this called "The Quest For The True Self." Once again, THANK YOU for the perfect timing, words, beauty and wisdom in your blog!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for sharing your story, Shannon, it sure resonates with my experience. We pick life paths before we’ve done much carving at all. It only makes sense we’d need to shift midstream every once in a while!

  • This is what I wrote about today, too! It’s been brewing in my mind for months. So glad to read your thoughts and see the same topic from a different angle.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Just replied to you on Facebook, Lisa. Loved your post. Happy Birthday!

  • Susan

    This may be my favorite of what you’ve written. Thank you. (The truth is, I often think this though. 🙂 )

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Susan. : )

  • Susan

    Fantastic piece. Turns out, we’ve been here all along.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks, Susan!

  • Patricia

    Thanks Kelly for this post; it came at the perfect time for me. Another insightful and well written piece! I so enjoy your writing! Keep up the good work.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Patricia, and thanks for your kind words!

  • Mike Gates

    This is good writing The example you chose communicated the idea really well. Happy Wednesday!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Mike, it was so good to finally talk to you face to face during the Courtyard Conversation! So much appreciated everything you had to say. Happy Wednesday!

      • Mike Gates

        Thank YOU. It was an interesting conversation. I appreciated what people had to share

  • Ginny

    Loved this article. And loved the Courtyard Conversation. I only listened, but it clarified and reinforced what my mentor told me once-I have to love the “little girl” that comes out in my distressing times. Still in the process of doing that, but making headway or should I say “heartway.” Thanks for all you do.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Ah. Love that. “Heartway.” So glad you could be at the Courtyard Conversation, Ginny, and that you felt comfortable just listening. The next one is scheduled for June 12th, hope you can make that one, too!

  • Julie Salinas

    Beautiful! I read something similar in Steering by Starlight – Martha Beck. Love this concept and I would like to change my name to Grace. It’s so beautiful

    • drkellyflanagan

      Well. I love that title. And that name! Both of them are beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Julie.

  • Holly Mathews

    This is great. I’ve been doing a lot of chipping away recently and have been feeling better physically and mentally. I have realised, though, that it affects everyone and everything around me in both positive and negative ways. I’m thinking I need to get rid of the negatives though no matter how much it’ll hurt.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re right, Holly, no change happens without ripple effects. Blessings to you as you continue to be wise and discerning in your process of becoming.

  • Mandie

    I am just starting the divorce process after finding out my husband was having another affair. I have stated several times in the past few days that I need to “find and trust myself again”. So this article was perfectly timed – I just need to believe I am loved and beautiful just the way I am and to feel God’s grace. Thank you!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Mandie, I’m so sorry to hear about what you’re going through, but incredibly glad you could receive this message today. Grace has you, sees you, and loves you, just the way you are, indeed.

  • Grace

    I thought I might write a blog today. Nope. Yours are the words I’ll share. Your ‘Life of the Beloved’ quotes are the ones I’ve underlined, plus so many more. And the truth is, to be taken, blessed, broken and given, is to be loved deeply by that Someone, so much so, that those who don’t yet know it, begin to believe in their worthiness by the way we love them. Love cannot be contained, it is the only impossibility of which I know. And the wood? Beautiful analogy. A quote from The Journeyman, our homeschool reader, is this. “When, in patience and humility, he saw that beauty dwelt secure, he could be confident that it would reproduce itself and by its own force.” Thank you for these lovely thoughts today! 🙂

    • drkellyflanagan

      Grace, isn’t it funny how Nouwen readers just seem to gravitate toward each other without even knowing it? I’m so thankful for that man and his work. And what a beautiful quote. Thank you for sharing it!

  • I’m in tears and my heart is aching. I was just talking with a dear friend not two nights ago about this very thing. We didn’t have your words of course but she was trying to help me see that I was much more revealed, closer to that grace, a few years ago after some self-exploration that I’d been doing then but she’s watched me layer things back on myself in the last couple of years. She was telling me it made her sad and she missed that deeper me she saw and how content and inspired I was then.

    It was hard For me to hear and I admit I was a little resistant because I didn’t want to accept that I’d been working against myself. Thank you for being that objective third party who could help me see more clearly. I’m definitely saving this one and putting it in my journal.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I hear you, Seth. And I think it’s totally natural to go through cycles of carving, and then periods in which we begin collect dust again, sometimes many layers. The good news is, dust is easier to shed than wood. 🙂

  • Peter Mason

    Very well said! Thank you!!!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, and you’re welcome, Peter!

  • Beautiful piece Kelly. And I believe there’s a conundrum inherent to this process, perhaps especially for people who enjoy the resources of the spiritual, personal growth, or psycho-therapeutic community. Others can point the way. They can help us learn how to walk. They can suggest modalities, practices, belief-systems and daily rituals that can point us in the general direction of our truth. But the truth of what we are can’t be found by following someone else’s path. There’s a jumping off place where we gamble on the possibility that we have garnered the resources to walk our own path. It’s a path that no one in history has ever walked before and often it’s dark. Very dark. And going into that darkness turns out to be the doorway to becoming who we always were, and had only to rediscover through acts of courageous redemption.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Lisa, thank you for pointing out this paradox, that we require help and care in this process, but at the same time, parts of it can only be walked alone. So well said.

      • It’s a pleasure to connect, though virtually. 🙂 Do you read Matt Licata?

        • drkellyflanagan

          I have not. Worth a read?

          • I think so. He’s one of only two people I read about the personal evolution of consciousness, and he is articulate, integrative and very clear-minded. I love it when he seamlessly weaves in what we know about trauma and the ANS (Polyvagal Theory) as well as attachment theory. I’ll be curious to hear what you think!

            He organized this training summit, which I’m very curious about: http://www.soundstrue.com/store/neuroscience-summit/free-access

            • drkellyflanagan

              Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Powerful! Thank you for this post.

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome!

  • Brilliant, Kelly! As always! This is probably my favorite up to now! 🙂

  • Wow … this just really hit home! A lot of my healing in therapy has been for years – much of the same for me – healing is about chipping away at the old messages and seeing what has already been there all along, I just need to believe in it” .. and that is what this healing process is about.

    Life is contrast, you can’t know one thing without already have been a part of it. Healing for me is not about re-creating myself, but more so finding the lost parts of me that are hidden by past lies of the abuse I went through. This what you write reminds me so much of my healing process. Thank you!

    What you write has so much truth… I am glad I stumbled over here today and read your blog ..

  • Liz Dju

    The beauty of this post is its simplicity. Love it!

  • Ann Davis Forlenza

    I don’t have to believe I am lovable, for I am love and I know that truth. It’s funny how truth gets run over by the stories we tell ourselves or stories that others tell about us and we begin to believe in these stories. I have been deeply kissed by grace several times, always when my thinking mind is quiet, when I’m still and not grasping at anything. It is those times that my truth is revealed and my heart has no boundaries. None. Whether it was the result of the great pains of total surrender, or the blissful moment of complete flow with the universe-grace kissed me and its memory of this tender kiss that I recall, again and again. Each time I find my true self again and again- then I say oh yes there you are truth, why did I forget to see that you were with me always? Only because I have experienced this deep surrender of that (ego) that is ready to battle for me for my survival that I remember there is no war, only truth which is love. I go deep in quiet surrender and find my truth again and again. It really is heaven on this earth.
    Thank you Kelly for sharing with us your wisdom. It touches me greatly that there are people like you guiding others to see themselves in all their glory and be free with the truth of who they really are. Keep doing your work and know that your heart is seen by many.
    Ann

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  • Holly Fullmer

    thank you…this is good to hear!

  • Hi Kelly
    I always find chunks of your writing ready to fly into the world…as a tweet! Like this one:
    “You don’t build what you are; you chip away at what you are not.”
    Please, can you use the plugin that would allow us to tweet your words? thanks!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Nora, thanks again for your comment over on Facebook and for this practical encouragement. Yes, I’ll look into it for sure! Thank you!

  • JC

    I believe in a divinely laid plan that provides for all of us to become the very best of what we are and share in the beauty of it all, together, throughout eternity. I would like to input further thoughts on the concept of change; specifically I believe the concept of Grace as stated in the article is correct about not looking upon the individual with anything other than acceptance. I would add that change WILL happen to those who embrace who they are and find a way to “carve” into that core. Embracing one’s self and being embraced by others in true grace will have a profound affect, creating in so many ways, a new creature. I hold to the principles of my faith, believing that we are all children of God and being the heirs of such divinity have quite a significant core to “chisel” out. The key to accessing such divinity was worded by Ezra Taft Benson:
    “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. . .”

    Dr. Flanagan,
    Thank you for the open forum to allow for personal reflection and occasional discussions about relevant topics that affect our emotional state. I’ve looked for a long time to find a place where what I have to say can be heard without being immediately rejected or having my beliefs trampled by those who would rather argue than discuss such things. Hopefully this continues to be such a place and hopefully some of my thoughts and responses to others’ dialogue will prove to be uplifting and/or refreshing to another.