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when do I stop being something I was and start being something I am not?

September 15, 2011

A butterfly emergingMetamorphosis.

That is what we were hoping to see as we tried to cut open the chrysalis we had found on the ground. We find them occasionally when they lose their attachment to the tree. Once they fall their chances of completing their transformation is almost nil. This one looked brown and dry and  presented an opportunity to take a peek at what goes on inside the protective shell – an impromptu lesson in biology.

My youngest daughter had run upstairs to get a sharp knife. “Cut it down the centre” I said, “you might be able to peel away the casing and see what was going on inside.

I can’t. It is slippery.”

So I had a turn. It was slippery.

As I cut into it it moved. The incompletely formed parts oozed out.

It was a short lesson in biology.

No longer what it was, and never going to be what it was trying to become, it became for me a lesson in own our vulnerability during times of change.

I was asked today if I would talk with someone who was considering going back to University to study law with the view to becoming a barrister (hoping to focus in the area of planning and environment law). That makes sense because if you read my bio it mentions in a roundabout way that I have been admitted to the Queensland Bar and have practiced as a barrister here in Queensland (hoping to focus in the area of planning and environment law).

I spent a lot of years and a lot of energy becoming a barrister so I suppose I am a good choice if you are looking for a perspective from someone who has made that journey.

And if you asked me what I was doing during those years I would say “I am in the process of becoming a barrister.

I said that a lot.

No longer what I was but not yet what I planned to be.

Then, for a year I was.

Then, I realised that I wasn’t. Although the distinction wasn’t that clear. Like the chrysalis I spent much of that year being neither. A barrister wasn’t who I was meant to be.

I felt vulnerable and when others asked what I was doing I felt a lot like that chrysalis going under the knife. I wriggled when they probed and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop the incompletely formed parts of me being exposed. Like my daughter with our chrysalis, I always felt people left a little disappointed they didn’t see the butterfly that had been told would be inside.

Metamorphosis is defined as a change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one. I looked at a couple of definitions and none of them said anything about how vulnerable the process can make you…

So the question is – what am I now?

I am still able to practice as a barrister. I suspect I will not so that isn’t me.

I am still able to practice as an engineer.  Increasingly though that does not define what I do.

I am working on becoming a better speaker. The implication there is that I am one. I mean I have done it and will do it again this coming week- but does that make me one? Perhaps I am a writer? I write a lot. Or am I just a blogger? As marathon runner is to sprinter?

When do I stop being something I once was?
When do you stop seeing me as that something?
Will you ever stop?
When do I start being something I have never been before?

What if I lose my attachment and fall and get caught by a curious girl with a knife?

***

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Beth Stubberfield permalink
    September 16, 2011 11:16 am

    Paul, very insightful and thought provoking….. and you are all of those things and so much more – we are all unique in our own way. Love the story telling in you !

  2. Megan permalink
    September 18, 2011 7:33 am

    Paul,

    I have been reflecting on this one quite a bit. I too feel somewhat a changeling. I think the one thing that challenges me most from your blog this time, is the concept that “you are what you do”. And your success or value as a person is measured by that (rightly or wrongly).

    In a similar way, I have started studies in a number of fields… Laboratory biology, naturopathy, Scientology, law (albeit briefly) and really have completed none of these in full. I think the difference between the metamorphosis of a butterfly and the appearance of a similar process in us, is that even if we don’t quite make it to the other side, we have still added something valuable to our understanding of the sum of all things. We are not mush if we don’t make it to the other side.

    I believe we are the sum of our experiences… Completed bits and bits in the making. The culmination is a wonderful human.

    • September 18, 2011 12:39 pm

      Mmmm, I think the “you are what you do” way of seeing the world is part of the problem. I can’t remember who it was but I recall someone pointing out that our business cards should say “Breather” because we spend more time breathing than we do anything else.

      I didn’t mean to imply that we were mush if we don’t complete the journey. I do think we are vulnerable because of the expectation that we must “be” something and that if, like I experienced, we get all the way there only to discover that is not where we want to be others will ask questions. Those questions were for me uncomfortable ones because I didn’t have an answer, I didn’t know why.

      I don’t regret taking that journey. I learned a lot along the way and it has benefited me in a number of ways – it is part of who I am. I still squirm a bit when people probe too deeply about why I am not a barrister though…

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