The Angel Already Inside: “Who Are You Becoming?”

There’s a story people like to tell about Michaelangelo. You know him, the guy who at the tender age of 26 carved what is often referred to as the “world’s greatest sculpture,” and “one of the greatest masterpieces ever created by mankind,” the statue of David.

Michaelangelo was what is known as a “subtractive sculptor.” This means that he would take a block of stone and then chip away the bits that weren’t a part of the finished sculpture.

As the story goes, someone once asked him: “How do you create a work such as David?”

His answer?

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

“You just chip away everything that doesn’t look like David.”

Did Michaelangelo actually say any of those things? Who knows. Quote investigator dives into the topic here. Regardless, you get the idea.

Recently on his podcast, Rich Roll put forth the question: “Who are you becoming?” As he explained in his conversation with Tim Ferriss, originally he thought of the question “Who are you?” but he felt that “Who are you becoming” better encapsulated the idea he wanted to put into the world.

At first the question really resonated with me. Yes! Who am I becoming? Who do I want to be?

But then I remembered bouldering.

A few years ago, I felt my time was too filled with work, not enough play. I wanted to find a new activity that would be fun and interesting, active and engaging.

They say one way to find your passion is to look back at your childhood: What did you love doing then?

I loved climbing on rocks at the beach. 

The idea came to me, but at the time I hardly knew anything about climbing or bouldering. Or so I thought.

I went to the local climbing gym and asked the staff to tell me about bouldering. That first day was a bit overwhelming. I could hardly climb at all, and I still had some fear of falling off the walls if I did. And yet, as I sat on a bench changing out of the tight climbing shoes into my own footwear, I knew this was something I wanted to do more of.

That was December of 2018. As it turns out, my brain had been working on this for years.

The first thing I noticed was a reference to bouldering in my book A Conventional Murder, which I published just one month later. Somehow, I’d written bouldering into the book without really thinking about it; it was just a thing that a couple of characters seemed like they might be the types to do.

But then a few months later I found a couple of old pieces of paper on which I’d written a list of “Things to be happy about.” On the list: “rock climbing.”

The list was from sometime in the 1990s.

I stared at those words on the paper for a while. Rock climbing?

I had to dig deep into my memory vault to recall that I had, in fact, tried rock climbing once before. It was when I was living in Oregon, right after college. I remember not really knowing what I was doing, and honestly, I don’t think I particularly loved it. I was on top rope (harnessed up, clipped into a rope that was looped through an anchor at the top of the wall). The climb was high. The harness was uncomfortable. I didn’t know (or therefore trust) my belayer, and I didn’t know what I was doing.

Yet I later wrote that rock climbing was something to be happy about.

And all these years later, I’ve found climbing again, mostly in the form of bouldering (rock climbing, but without the ropes or equipment). I’ve even been known to describe climbing as a spiritual experience.

Did I become someone new?

Or, like Michaelangelo, am I merely chipping away at the parts of me that don’t belong, to uncover the truth of who I’ve always been?

Maybe it’s not either/or. Maybe, as with most things, it’s a bit of both. But the fact is, through our lives we take on a lot of baggage, including some that’s not even our own. We put up walls and barriers. We wear masks and cover ourselves with armor.

The act of becoming who we truly are involves change and action and growth. But it also includes shedding, chipping away, letting go.

Maybe the answer to the question of “who are you becoming?” lies somewhere within “I saw my true self inside the burdens I’ve been carrying, and I chipped away until I set myself free.”