The illusion of demarcation
As I reflected on the topic of my last blog post, outward focus vs. inward focus, my thoughts wandered and I thought about the strange way we humans tend to put fixed borders on a world which is essentially a realm of endless transition, without fixed delineations between entities and between states. We seem to have a need to identify and label periods of time and set them apart from each other, as artificial as this might be: graduations, birthdays, marriages, divorces — these mark the boundaries between one period and another. This is something universal — every culture has events to demarcate life phases. In our society, even decades and centuries are neatly demarcated in multiples of ten for future product marketing and theme party purposes.
I remember thinking when I turned 18, “Hmm, I don’t really feel any different today than yesterday, even though now I’m an ‘adult'”. Same goes for starting a new career — we tend to think that careers begin and end, but that does not necessarily correlate with the experience in itself: I sort of slipped into teaching without studying education first, and only later did I complete a master in teaching English to speakers of other languages, so it’s impossible to say when I started being a ‘teacher’ — perhaps in some respect as a child when I would help my peers with schoolwork or tutor younger students. Same goes for my career as a clarity consultant — it’s not something that had a fixed beginning point, but rather a fluid transition.
This tendency to see states as having fixed boundaries leads many people to espouse a particular self-limiting belief that leads to postponement of plans, reluctance to realize dreams — in other words, stasis and stagnation. This fallacy is a case of mistaken identity — I want to be something, rather than seeing that I already am that thing! I call this the illusion of demarcation. There is often a seemingly rational reason for perceiving reality in this way — e.g. my client wants to be a doctor, and one cannot legally work as a doctor in our society without a medical degree and license — this is clear. And of course, in one sense, if she doesn’t have a degree, she isn’t a doctor.
But what is a doctor, at a more profound level, beneath the corresponding knowledge and skills? An attitude. And either she has this attitude or she doesn’t. So she can be a doctor (in training) already, even if she has never stepped foot in medical school. She can live every day making her decisions from the point of view of this inner doctor, be it what time to wake up, what to eat in the morning, how to get to work, or how to raise her children, etc. And then, when she is living each and every day as a doctor, she just might find that the external factors fall into place and one day, before she knows it, she finds herself actually working as a doctor. Or maybe, on the other hand, she might find that beneath what she calls ‘doctor’ is really something else, perhaps a desire to heal others, or maybe a desire to be prosperous or to be respected, etc., and then other pathways might instead present themselves for her to live out her essential being in the external world.
Whoever/whatever it is you want to be, you can become aware right now that you are (even if just a small fraction) already that person/thing! The seed of your desired identity lies already within you, and is ready to grow and grow until it comprises your entire being. Perhaps this is a radically new and different way of thinking for you, as it is for most people, and it just might result in radical changes in your life — if you don’t believe me, you could try it out and see. The next time you hear that voice saying, “I wish I were _____“, stop and pause, and rephrase the words in this way: “I am already _____”. If you find that that is too difficult, perhaps it will be easier to say “I am a _____ in training” or “I am a novice _____“, etc. Try out different combinations to see what works for you at this point. But the important thing is, the verb must be in the present tense (“I speak in front of crowds with ease and comfort” instead of “I will speak in front of crowds with ease and comfort“). Then take a look back at the past and see the fluid origins of your journey as a doctor, a public speaker, or whatever it is you are.
Try it out and let me know how it went for you!
Evan Zelezny-Green is a consultant, teacher, coach, and world citizen who offers Clarity Consulting and Language Acquisition Consulting services on his website Evan Zelistening.