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Being and Becoming

In 1914, Sigmund Freud wrote a classic paper in psychoanalysis entitled Mourning and Melancholia. Although he may have been wrong about the mechanisms by which those states arose, his language pointed to a fundamental truth about human behavior: Freud recognized that melancholia is a state, whereas mourning is a process.

Grief is the common word but, as anyone who has ever lost someone or something dear can attest, grieving is how we come to terms with a loss. Parents tell their children they can be whatever they want to be, that is, achieve the state of greatness. “Dare to be great,” they say, advice no one can or should dispute. But what about the process of becoming great? How does one become the best they can be?

In my years as a therapist I have been privileged to witness amazing feats of dedication. I saw a young man with potentially disabling learning disabilities persist through years of 12-hour study stints to become a doctor. For years he wanted to be a doctor, but becoming one was another matter.

I saw a young woman who spent her adolescence taking care of an abusive, alcoholic parent find the courage to emancipate herself, work her way through college and start the business of her dreams. She wasn’t born an entrepreneur, she became one.

Experts have identified two basic but interrelated forms of knowledge required for success. Declarative knowledge involves facts, dates and definitions, what one learns in books. Procedural knowledge only can be learned through trial and error, or what the optimist calls trial and success. Either way, the most important word in the sentence refers to trying. How one tries determines the outcome, the most desirable of which require plenty of trying.

Take wealth, for example. Buying lottery tickets is an incredibly low-probability strategy for getting rich quick. Directing the lottery ticket money into an investment account is a longer but surer road to becoming wealthy. Long before he became a financial tycoon, Warren Buffet started on his way by delivering newspapers and learning his customer base. He had embarked on the process of becoming wealthy.

It takes seven years of practice to become an overnight rock sensation. Take Taylor Swift, for example. She spent her teenage years taking singing lessons and was rejected time and again at Broadway musical tryouts. She didn’t give up. In fact, the experience helped her learn to become a better performer.

Every athletic champion spends years of practice perfecting his or her skills before becoming a master of his or her sport. Skiing prodigy Mikaela Shiffrin spent her youth learning to juggle while riding a unicycle, Talk about a way to become more balanced! And she needed it, too. On her Olympic gold medal slalom run she recovered instinctively when she momentarily lost her balance on a slippery rut.

No muscle-building supplement in itself could help a bodybuilder become stronger without lots of time in the gym.

Ironic, isn’t it? Relinquishing the dream of being frees a person to become. Hoping to hit the hit the lottery makes one a better hoper. Waiting to feel energetic enough to work out makes one a better waiter. There is no one way to become; however, every successful person has embraced (not necessarily loved) the process through which they acquired the knowledge and skills that enabled them to become the person they are. For sure, pursue lofty goals. Aim high. But remember you’ll never hit the bullseye until you’ve become a marksman.

Dream of being rich, but save and invest to become wealthy. Dream of being fit, but become stronger with sets of ten reps each and every day. Dream of being happily married, but relish each chance to become a better partner. Dream of being thin, but become more aware of every extra calorie you ingest. Dream of being a Yankee, but go to the batting cage to become a better hitter. Dream of being a novelist, but become a writer by writing a short story. Dream of being famous, but become a rock star by writing a song.

Most important of all: Dream of being the best, but embrace the learning process so you can become the best you can be.

Child dreaming photo available from Shutterstock

Being and Becoming

Jeffrey Deitz, MD

Jeffrey Deitz MD is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in Connecticut and New York City. For years Deitz, who teaches medical students and supervises psychiatrists-in-training, wrote for the professional literature about psychotherapy, conducting seminars about the role of psychotherapy in treating PTSD and Bipolar Disorder. In 2010, he began publishing in the New York Times and Huffington Post about sports psychology, the power of psychotherapy, and the public health risk of sleep deprivation. Deitz’s first novel, Intensive Therapy: A Novel, a fiction about the life-saving relationship between a psychiatrist and patient, has recently been published. For more information visit:

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APA Reference
Deitz, J. (2018). Being and Becoming. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 8 Jul 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.