You’ve no doubt heard the motivational quote, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Frankly, it has always struck me as excessively sentimental, or—to use my preferred description—sappy.
But on my first day of unemployment since 1977—even though a planned move—I’ve certainly been thinking about who I am and what’s next.
To help in that process, I turned to John Kaag’s recent book, Hiking With Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are. I’ll be honest: I know nothing about philosophy, but was simply taken by the book’s title and jacket blurbs. We buy books for all different reasons, I suppose, and I’m glad I picked this one up a few weeks ago. Kaag, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, writes about two journeys he took to Piz Corvatsch, the Swiss mountain so important to the writing and life of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The author’s first journey to Corvatsch was when he was a youthful nineteen-year-old. The more recent one came at age 36, with wife and young daughter in tow. Both were real and philosophical in nature.
“Journey” is the appropriate word choice here, if we think of a journey as active movement where we encounter slips and falls along the way; where we find that sometimes the only way is the long one. Kaag writes:
“As it turns out, to ‘become who you are’ is not about finding a ‘who’ you have always been looking for. It is not about separating ‘you’ off from everything else. And it is not about existing as you truly ‘are’ for all time. The self does not lie passively in wait for us to discover it. Selfhood is made in the active, ongoing process, in the German verb werden, ‘to become.’ The enduring nature of being human is to turn into something else, which should not be confused with going somewhere else. This may come as a great disappointment to one who goes in search of the self. What one is, essentially, is this active transformation, nothing more, nothing less.”
Kaag chronicles how his approach to Nietzsche’s philosophy changes over time. He recognizes that some call that philosophy juvenile, but Kaag argues that there are lessons in Nietzsche lost on the young who don’t understand the ease with which we can be lulled into being satisfied with mediocrity or how “difficult it would be to stay alert to life.” Kaag suggests that he aligns with Nietzsche’s thought that transformation into becoming who we are requires that we physically rise, stretch, and set off. It is a world view about “aims once more permitted and sought after.”
I’ve committed to keep days free on my calendar in order to take this time of new-found unemployment to stretch, to set off, to sometimes fall backward, but always to “lean one’s present self into something unattained, attainable, yet out of view” where even “slipping can be instructive.” It isn’t what is at the top that’s important, it is about what is discovered and how we are transformed along the way.
And so the journey continues.
Have a good week.
More to come…