Finding the Flow: Growing into Your Whole, Authentic Self

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ~Lao Tzu

I was around twelve years old as I sat in the career day presentation. I can’t remember one word that was said. It might as well have been the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons speaking in that esoteric adult language.

It was the day I made my first practical life decision. In seventh grade, I boldly decided I would be a dentist—for absolutely no meaningful reason. I chose because society was insisting upon it.

I held onto this idea for a decade before entering dental school. I did exceptionally well, but two years in, I realized that something wasn’t right. Turns out, I hated general dentistry.

However, it was the path I had chosen, so I stuck with it.

I completed school and decided to pursue the challenging path of oral and maxillofacial surgery. It was exciting, and exhausting, and…empty.

Two years in, I realized something wasn’t right.

I didn’t hate it, but it didn’t quite resonate with me in a way I felt it should. Nonetheless, I stuck with it because it was the path I had chosen. I declared I was to be an oral surgeon and come hell or high water that was what I would be.

I finished my residency and started my professional career. After thirteen years of education, you would think there would be a sense of accomplishment and relief. There was, but unfortunately, it was short-lived.

Two years later, I realized something wasn’t right. Again.

That was around the time I started exploring my creative self again—the self I had put on on hold for twenty years while pursuing a career path that I mistakenly believed defined me. I finally understood that I had to give myself permission to be a work in progress – to evolve beyond a definition of self that didn’t quite fit.

Like many others, I struggled with thinking I had made a wrong decision.  Only time has allowed me to see that there are no mistakes as long as we learn from imperfect choices. There is value in every step of the journey.

I had to find (and am still finding) my balance of what truly makes me the valuable person that I am. Most of all, I had to embrace the fluidity of life. I believe this is what Lao Tzu meant by his words.

I had to learn to stop fighting against flow.

The illusion of “I am that” holds many of us captive in prisons of our own making. In the struggle to define ourselves as individuals, we often paint ourselves into lonely and sometimes dangerous corners.

Gender, sexual orientation, politics, religion, race—although we may belong to a particular group, it is the over-identification with that group that separates us from the next individual. We become stunted in growth when we cling to these outward labels.

We can even become over-identified with the roles we play such as spouse, parent, or child. What happens when circumstances change? Does this explain the ex who can’t let go or the overbearing parent of an adult child?

Our titles, our affiliations, and even our closest relationships don’t define the cores of who we are. “I am that” leads to stagnation. It blocks our journey to wholeness.

We’re all divine beings derived from the same source. We’re all on a quest to return to our authentic selves rooted in love.

We often fail to remember that our commonality is the only identification that matters.

We resist the natural rhythms of transformation when we hang onto our roles, titles, and other false identities (e.g. victim). As we release our narrow self-definitions, we are able to transform into the highest versions of ourselves.

Spiritual progression requires that we learn to welcome flow.   

What misguided visions of yourself do you hold? What constraints have you placed around yourself to impede your own evolution? What must you let go of to become who you might be?

Photo by Pusteblumenland

About F. Emelia Sam

Dr. F. Emelia Sam is a writer, speaker, and oral surgeon in the Washington, DC region. She is the author of I Haven’t Found Myself but I’m Still Looking and How to Create the Life You Really Want: 20 Small Strategies for Big Changes.

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  • KG

    I agree completely with this post. But I have a question which has been following me for almost a year now. I’m looking for work. Every company has its own culture. They all want me to be “part of the team”. They talk about individual talent but that isn’t the same as expecting or allowing a person to be autonomous. In this new way of being, I refrain from putting labels on myself or on others. I strive to see every possible angle and not get attached to any one view. But how do I live that *and* get myself a job offer? There’s so much pressure to say “I am that” when all around you the company culture is “We are that”. Is it ok to go along with it and allow people to assume I agree? Or is that dishonest?

    I guess my question is about integrity. I realise that honesty doesn’t necessarily mean saying everything I think. Saying nothing can be an honest person’s tactic in some situations. I guess I’m worried that participating in an “I am that” style workplace will undermine all the progress I’ve made in myself. And I’m also insecure because I know that most people are still living “I am that” and I run a real risk of having my actions misinterpreted when I act from a place of surrender… Having been out of work for so long, and having changed so much, I’m nervous about dealing with strangers again.

    Maybe I’ve answered my own question there! Maybe I shouldn’t worry anymore. Maybe things will work out in ways I can’t see yet. Maybe I just need a faith top-up.

    What are your experiences of combining surrender/flow with corporate life? F. Emelia Sam, how does business combine with flow for you? Is it possible? Desireable? Any tips gratefully received 🙂

  • Joy

    Hi KG, I regard work as an extension and expression of who we are. I consider myself to be a spiritual vessel that the Higher Power is using to spread love at work and in life AND the world refers to me as a Facilitator and Coach of Transformation. In her book, A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson said that we do not have to make our intentions known to everyone, it is through our actions that our intentions will manifest. It can be confusing to explain to some people about who you truly are because they might not see things as you do, so what I do is to always remain centered and grounded in my Source even when I am at the workplace. I benefited a lot from A return to Love, especially chapter 7 which is about Work and another book which is Unconditional Success: Loving the work you were born to do by Nick Williams.

    I combine surrender/flow with corporate life by allowing what is to be (We are that) and also honor myself to be my authentic self. My experience is that I always find things to work out for good ( win-win) for both the organization and me when I do this. I hope my experience will make sense and be of benefit in some way to you.
    All the best.

  • Thank you Emelia. Your self examination sheds light by which we can all better see ourselves and you! Nice to meet ya! 

  • Char_vict

    Thank you

  • Thank you for reading. 🙂 

  • Thank you, Michael, for your reply. Nice to meet you, too. 🙂 

  • I agree wholeheartedly with what Joy has replied. Seeing yourself as a conduit for positivity allows your true self to emerge whatever environment you are in…and “A Return to Love” was a very influential book for my evolution, as well.   

    As for the question of integrity, only you can decide what types of situations are deal breakers and truly compromise your well-being. That is the highest price you can pay. If you truly desire to work for someone else, you have to believe that there are perfect opportunities for you to be a valuable asset while being your truest self. 

    The Universe/God/Source -whatever you wish to name it- always provides the lessons that are needed at that time. Your nervousness is just a signal that you are about to shift to another level of your being. As scary as it is, embrace it and trust that there is a place (many places) for you just as you are and wish to be. 

  • Giromi

    Thank you! for the longest time I’ve been wanting to be a doctor and several times I’ve questioned if this is the right path for me. I have faced many challenges, and yet something keeps telling me to continue moving forward. I think the obstacles I faced, allowed me to look within and begin my spiritual journey, and accept myself just the way I am. Thank you for this post!

  • YES! Can we just spread this message to the entire world now? 🙂 “Our titles, our affiliations, and even our closest relationships don’t define the cores of who we are. “I am that” leads to stagnation. It blocks our journey to wholeness.” Thank you, thank you for posting. Keep doing what you’re doing mama!

  • Thank you, Lindsey. You have no idea how much that means to me. I really feel like over-identification is at the root of every problem the world faces. If we all turned within, the external would take care of itself. Imagine that. 🙂 

  • I’m glad something resonated. We all need to listen to the little voice…the persistent whisper that won’t let us go but silently encourages us to the next step whatever that may be. Wishing you much peace along your journey. 🙂

  • Karen-sharman

    I very much enjoyed this intelligent insightful post, all of which got a resounding yes as I read on. 

  • Thank you. Much appreciated. 🙂

  • Joy

    So true Emelia, you are a blessing xoxo

  • This resonated with my own path which has at times seemly jumped in and out of flow and am now pursuing more balance .. Nice post thx

  • Grandpa Mike

    Wonderful thoughts here, letting go is so very difficult for us, on many levels.  Giving ourselves the freedom to find who we can become is one of the most rewarding gifts we can give ourselves.

  • Couldn’t agree with you more, Grandpa Mike. 😉  The constant unfolding is the reward of living. 

  • Thank you, Joanna. I appreciate you taking the time to comment. 🙂

  • Tyhansen222

    Absolutely amazing. 🙂 it blows me away how deeply every story I have ever read here on tinybuddha resonates with me. It seems everything I read I have already believed and have had faith in and they are affirmations to read them coming from others. It shows I truly am not alone on my journey. 🙂 these passages seem to be reminders for me as well when I have slipped and fallen and not sure if I want to get back up. I have fallen many times and have often thought about quitting for keeps here on earth but to be given such a tremendous blessing of hope in writings just like these helps me get back in step and realize that I have battled so long and hard to make life at times feel so blissful. But then I realize that doing so is not so hard after all. It is quite simply letting go and being in harmony with life all around me.

  • I love sites like these for the same reason. It reminds us of our connectedness and provides great company for our “individual travels.” Your comment warms my heart. 

  • Margaret

    What a wonderful and insightful post, Emelia!  Thank you for crystalizing some very important points and also for giving me cause to celebrate certain choices and decisions I had already made.  The line I keep going back to is “We resist the natural rhythms of transformation…” which rings very true for me.  Awakening to this, it feels like a door has opened in my mind.

  • Thank you, Margaret. I’m glad it you found it useful. I love the idea of celebrating choices. I don’t think we do nearly enough of that. You’ve opened a door in my mind, as well. 

  • horoko

    Thank you!!

  • You are welcome. Thank you for taking the time to read. 🙂

  • inspiredgreatness

    ‘“I am that” leads to stagnation. It blocks our journey to wholeness.’Such an awesome post. I find I often try to ‘censor’ myself or hold back in my creativity because when I think of doing something completely ‘unlike’ myself, I usually shy away from following through. Being willing to let go of who we are is a great philosophy 🙂 

  • It’s funny how most of us do censor ourselves…and we censor other people, too. Perhaps it’s unsettling to have to figure out new rules that go along with new ways of being. I appreciate your comment. 🙂 

  • I think that we sometimes get so tied up with titles and labels and doing those things that We think are expected from us that we have little time to explore our own desires, needs and wants! Thank you!


  • Very true, Randy. Getting caught up in how others think “we fit” distracts from our own exploration of self. Thanks for your response. 🙂 

  • As a Guidance Counsellor who ironically tries very hard NOT to rush students into to having to make life-long decisions immediately, this was helpful for me on many levels.  This is a great message for young people.  Your comment about finding value in every step is right on!  Thanks.


  • Thanks, Danette. I think you are in the perfect place. The traditional way has been to place us in unnecessary boxes very early on. I wasn’t pushed in any particular direction, but I recognized that I was “supposed” to make some sort of decision and jumped into a box on my own. 

    I’ve come to realize that there are so many facets to my being and I don’t have to be restricted. I’m glad that message rings true with others.  

  • Longd0405

    Great post and great feedback!I know and have experienced the consequences
    of the “I Am”.I chose a career in the medical field and still with every sense of my being know that was what my purpose
    on earth was meant to be.Although it was rewarding,fulfilling I unconsciously made it my “all” to the detriment of all areas of my life.When the time came that I could not work in that profession,(from my own
    choices and actions)I learned the hard way that I had made that who I was ,and when it ended my world was turned upside down.I eventually learned that was
    ALL I thought I was,and when gone I didn’t have no value or purpose.

  • Your experience speaks to balance. We’re multi-purposed beings and when we forget to express those other important parts of ourselves, we suffer even though that ONE thing may be purposeful. I hope you’ve come to see that you are so much more than the one thing and find as much peace and purpose in the full expression of who you really are…and who you are becoming. Thanks for sharing your experience. 

  • Dr. Sam: 
    I think that in order to realize our true essence, we have to shed the trappings of our ego. This is transformation.  We transform when we stop defining ourselves in terms of our roles, our titles, how we see ourselves in relationship to others….. 

    The more we can let go, the more we are open to the experience of flow.  For me, entering into a state of flow means I am stepping into a state of Spirit.  In this state, Spirit flows through me to create and expand Life, the Universe.  For me, this is the purpose of life–to create in ways that expand reality.

    At the same time, the titles we fill, the roles we play, the relationships we have, are the means through which we create and expand our world.  So the real challenge is to let go of the egotic attachments to our roles, titles, relationships and then use those definitions of self to engage in the process of creation and expansion.

    Thank you for this post. It served as a reminder to me how I can best create and participate in this world.

    Warmly, Laureen

  • Agreed 100%. The need to define is definitely that of the ego. You’ve beautifully articulated how our experiences shape and create us but not restrict us in the process. Thank you for your insightful response. I can tell your clients must benefit with you as their coach. 🙂 

  • KG

    Thank you Emilia and Joy, your comments have been very helpful. Much appreciated you both taking time to reply 🙂

  • OnThePath

    Thank you for this post. For many of us in the healthcare field, there seems to be a culture of “this is a calling, and it should be your be all and end all, consuming every waking minute.” I find myself wrestling with so much guilt about wanting to leave, yet every fiber of my being is screaming at me that I just don’t fit, and there is something else I need to be doing. I made the decision to be in this field as a 19 year old, but so much has changed in 20 years. I’ve only been in my current job for 8 months, though. Do I stick it out for the sake of my resume & my employer, or do I follow my heart? I am juggling graduate school, too, and plan to set up my own internship in the area of my study to get experience between semesters.

    Did you leave dentistry? If you did, do you have regrets?

  • I haven’t left the field, but I don’t work a 5-6 day a week schedule as many others.  I have to leave time to fulfill the other parts of myself that I neglected for so long. I think the balance is different for everyone. 

    For some, they can work full time and still find fulfillment doing their love as a hobby on the side. For others, they have to completely leave and pursue another direction. Many, such as myself, will fall somewhere in the middle. 

    Ironically enough, I’ve developed an allergy to every glove type imaginable so that seriously impacts the amount of surgery I can do. I truly believe it’s my body naturally rebelling against circumstances. I strongly suspect that my days will decrease as time goes on, but for now, this is workable. I’ll just keep listening to my instinct and progress accordingly. 

    The creative part of me refuses to be suppressed any longer and I have no intentions of fighting it. 😉 

  • Meridyadams

    Great article, thank you! I have followed the “safe” and “stable” career path for 20 years now and am now questioning who I am and where I want to be. No matter what I end up doing, I know I need to be true to myself.

  • Good for you. Being true to ourselves is our number one purpose…and when we are, there is benefit for everyone we touch. 

  • AL

    “it is the over-identification with that group that separates us from the next individual. We become stunted in growth when we cling to these outward labels.” I agree completely with this and other things mentioned in this post. Thank you for sharing!

  • Emelia

    Thanks, AL. 🙂