What I Be Project

The “What I Be” Project

by Steve Rosenfield


Last weekend, my friend Steve Rosenfield brought his What I Be Project to Portland to be a part of Elevate Yoga Trainings.

Project Info

The “What I Be” is a social experiment turned into, what is now, a global movement about honesty and empowerment. In today’s society, we are often told to look or act a certain way. If we differ from these “standards”, we are often judged, ridiculed, bullied and sometimes even killed over them. [Steve] started this project in hopes to open up the lines of communication, and to help everyone accept diversity with an open mind & heart and empower those who feel they suffer for something they may see as a flaw.

Anticipating the photo shoot was daunting and emotional.

Knowing we were all going to share a deeply personal vulnerability with other was highly intimidating.

Revealing insecurities, exposing our tender underbellies to the world, is TOUGH.

But, we “build security through our insecurities,” as his project site boldly states.

Through honesty, being open, revealing our perceived flaws, we are collectively empowered. And, we give others permission to be PERFECT in their imperfections; to welcome and accept diversity. Ultimately, we allow our humanness to be seen, felt and embraced.

The end result was so incredibly powerful.

In follow-up to the photo shoot, Steve requests that each participant write an essay providing more color around the image created and below I’ve included the first stab at mine.


Smile and you won’t seem ___________.   

“I am not my anxiety.”  – Jill Knouse

I’ve felt gripping anxiety since I was little.  When it started, I can’t quite pinpoint.  Why it started I can’t quite recall.  It doesn’t really matter when or why it surfaced.  But, it’s been there.  It’s been here as a part of me since I can remember…fear of situations, fear of people, fear of being judged.

I developed many survival techniques. Hide. Blend. Don’t stand out. Don’t give them a reason to judge you. And, SMILE…no one will know what’s really going on inside if you smile. Then, they can’t hurt you.  Oh yes, and in my 30’s, a great survival technique was Paxil. I was diagnosed with social anxiety and told that my fears would be greatly lessened by swallowing a daily anti-anxiety pill. I remained on these meds until 5 years ago.

My regular yoga practice began in 2005.  During my initial experiences on the mat, all of the stress that had been buried down deep in my body couldn’t help but percolate to the surface. My yoga teacher did her best, continuously reminding me to keep my shoulders from riding to my ears with every inhale, to keep my fingers from twitching as if typing keys on the mat in downward facing dog, to keep my teeth and toes from clenching desperately in every pose.  I didn’t realize it at the time but I was in the process of developing NEW survival techniques. I welcomed these new tools into my life: breath, movement, presence.

The meds are long gone.  Is the anxiety?  No.  I face fear every day.
I am a work in progress, observing my triggers, being mindful, resetting old patterns and habits.  I continue to wonder if you will approve of me, if you will judge my offering, if it will be good enough, if I am good enough, if I am just plain enough.  But, when presented with fear, I do my best to see it as a call to action.  Then, I step up.

This quote captures it beautifully:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
– Nelson Mandela

Step up in the face of fear and self-doubt.  You are more powerful than they are.  And, you are here to share the gifts you’ve earned directly through your unique life experiences.  Every time you step into fear, a battle – big or small – is won and you greatly expand your capacity to serve with infinitely more compassion.

I am not my anxiety. 

You are not your____________.

Click here to see all of the“What I Be Project” + Elevate Yoga Trainings images.