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How often do you get over who you think you are?

Today is July 1 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you get over who you think you are?” In his novel Hiking with Nietzsche: On Becoming Who You Are, author John Kaag discusses his exploration of what Romantic thinker Friedrich Nietzsche called “the pathos of distance.” Kaag wrote his book as tale of two journeys: one when he was an introspective young man of nineteen, the other seventeen years later as a husband and father.

As he hiked towards the Swiss peaks Kaag discussed the sense of being higher, of looking down and how that gave rise to the “craving for ever new widening of distances within the soul itself … the development of ever higher, rarer, more remote, further stretching, more comprehensive states.”

Today’s reflection involves the strategy of getting over who you think you are. Those who navigate the chaos generally maintain a high-level of self-awareness, seldom take themselves so seriously, and because of that combination might be seen as a threat by those less secure in their humanity. In Kaag’s words those who navigate the chaos ‘crave for an ever-new widening of distances within the soul itself.’

Kaag noted the impulse to strive was at the core of Nietzsche’s perfectionism. For Kaag the backcountry is an ideal place for Nietzsche’s hard questions that include ‘What am I trying to escape by making this dangerous trek? What is the point of this risk? Am I really, precisely, this alone? Am I going to die?’ Kaag discovered the disruptions of going into the backcountry, and off-road if you will, brings these questions into sharper focus and provides some much-needed perspective.

According to Kaag “What I discovered in the mountains, however, is that becoming who you are usually involves getting over who you think you are. In fact, the ‘who’ - the idea of oneself — is probably an impediment to growth and honesty. Nietzsche wants us to be wanderers, ‘though not as a traveler to a final destination: for this destination does not exist.’ This is not to say that we cannot set goals — quite the opposite. 'Set for yourself goals, high and noble goals,' a young Nietzsche instructed, 'and perish in pursuit of them.'"

And what if you die in the pursuit of your goal? Recall the words of Stoic Epictetus: “I have to die. If it is now, well, then, I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived — and dying I will tend to later.” How beautiful! How succinct! As Tim Robbin's character Andy says in the film Shawshank Redemption "I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying."

People like longtime college basketball coach Don Meyer understood the necessity of getting over himself in order to get busy living.

On September 5, 2008, Coach Meyer's car collided head on with a truck and it nearly killed him. The accident shattered all his ribs, destroyed his spleen, and tore his diaphragm. He also had part of his left leg amputated. Additionally, when doctors were treating him, they discovered inoperable cancer of his liver and small intestine. Coach was hospitalized for two months, but he returned to coaching.

While in a wheelchair at courtside in January 2009, he surpassed Bob Knight as the winningest coach in men's college basketball history with his 903rd victory. (In 2011, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski surpassed Meyer’s record.)

At the ESPY Awards 2009, Meyer was awarded the Jimmy V (Jim Valvano) Award for Perseverance. In February 2011, Coach Meyer was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame not only for his basketball coaching skills and records but was also recognized as an outstanding collegiate basketball and baseball athlete and administrator.

In his acceptance speech Meyer talked about having the opportunity to do more, to help more players, and to continue doing good for others. He understood, to paraphrase Epictetus, that it was not his time to die so he took lunch and tended to dying later. He eventually died on May 18, 2014, and left a legacy of someone who understood the necessity of maintaining the right perspective. He often quoted fellow coach John Wooden’s advice of “don’t complain, don’t whine, and don’t make excuses.”

  • How often do you crave for an ever-new widening of distances with your soul?

  • How often do you set goals for yourself and perish in the pursuit of them?

  • How often do you get over who you think you are?

  • How often do you realize that your perception of yourself is itself an impediment to growth?

  • Are you busy living or dying?

  • How often are you complaining, whining, or making excuses?

  • Are you setting high and noble goals? If not, why is this so?

  • Who or what is holding you back from setting high and noble goals?

  • Do you lack the perspective that you can obtain high and noble goals?

  • Why is it that some people simply think they are better than everyone else?

  • How often do you remind yourself that “I have to die. If it is now, well, then, I die now; if later, then now I will take my lunch, since the hour for lunch has arrived — and dying I will tend to later?”


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