Who Am I?  I Don’t Really Know!

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“To be or not to be?  That is the question”, said Hamlet.  But what is the answer?   Do you remember when you were in high school and everyone asked you “What do you want to be, when you grow up?”  Being that I did not have a clue, I simply ignored the question.  I suspect that millions of high school kids every year at graduation time get deluged with this question.  Personally, knowing how I felt about it, I make it a point “never” to ask any kids “What do they want to be when they grow up?”  Of course, some kids are smarter than I was, and they have a ready-made answer: “I want to be President of the United States.”  “I want to be an Oscar winning movie star.”  I want to be a quarterback in the NFL.”  “I want to be a Nobel Prize winning scientist.”  I was never any good with a comeback, so unfortunately, I never thought of any of these impressive responses.  Years have gone by and I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up.

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A few years ago, I was tempted to start a group for people over sixty who like me did not know what they wanted to be when they grew up.  Misery loves company as they say.  Sadly, too many of the people who I thought would qualify for my group had either died or retired.  The rest wanted to keep working and were not interested in finding their true selves.  I suspect that if they did quit their work, they would no longer know who they were.

images (1)As years have gone by, I have learned from the sages (who profess to know these things) that “being” is more important than “doing” in terms of defining who we really are.  In other words, just because I work as a management consultant or educator, that job title does not describe the real me.  The real me exists apart from what I do to make a living or to earn a paycheck.  I discovered that It would take an epic journey of soul searching to find my real being, the real me.  Ever since I learned that I needed such a quest to know my true inner self, I have been struggling to find out who I really am.  I am now 73 years old and I am still wrestling with this question.

When you meet people socially for the first time or you go to any party or get together, what is the first question that you get after you are introduced to a stranger?  It is of course: “What do you do?”  I now puff up my chest and reply: “I am busy being and not worrying about doing.”  No, that is a lie.  I wish I could say that, but usually I say the standard “Blah, Blah, Blah.”  Depending on my mood, I am either a management consultant, an educator, or an unpaid blogger.  The last job title usually sees my interrogator sidle slyly away with the excuse that they want to get another drink.  Seems bloggers are pretty low on anyone’s list of people “I must meet.”

220px-Σωκράτης,_Ακαδημία_Αθηνών_6616Socrates said that “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  These words were reportedly spoken at his trial for corrupting the youth of Athens.  Socrates believed that living a life where you unthinkingly obey the rules of society and never stop to examine what you actually want out of life is not worth living.  I believe that Socrates was thinking too much.  It is relatively easy to know what one wants out of life.  I want happiness, money, good health, good love, good sex, good food, interesting friends, a challenging and meaningful job and a perhaps a few exceptional children or two to round things out.  I am not sure what else I would want if I delved into the issue any deeper.

I think that the problem with even a cursory examination of one’s life is never about knowing what we want.  That is easy.  The difficult part is getting it.  How do I get money?  How do I get good love?  How do I get a meaningful and challenging job?  How do I get obedient disciplined exemplary children?  Each of these is a million-dollar question that involves a more elusive quest than finding than the Holy Grail.  It would be easier to find Genghis Khan’s buried treasure than to find happiness that does not often dissipate with the morning dew.

Socrates also said, “Know thyself.”  However, Socrates was not the first to make this claim.  The phrase “Know thyself” was a motto inscribed on the frontispiece of the Temple of Delphi.  On the bottom of the temple was a second motto that proclaimed: “All things in moderation.”  I am particularly good at the moderation edict, but I am still working on the “Know thyself” part.

Through assiduous reading from many self-help psychology books, philosophers, and spiritual prophets, I assumed that I had to separate being from doing before I could eventually find my true self.  I needed to unwrap myself from what I do and focus on “being.”  That is when I discovered another barrier to my quest.  I call it the paradox of the Mobius Strip versus the Two-Sided Coin.  A different way of thinking about this issue, might be in terms of East versus West world views.

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Allow me to explain this more.  If being and doing are thought of as two sides of the same coin (More of a Western conception) then we must balance each one separately.  Each one could be thought of as discrete parts of our lives.  Sometimes, I be and sometimes I do.  I be when I do not do, and I do not do when I be or something like that.  Could I keep them separate?  That was the puzzle that occupied my efforts for many years.  I could never solve it.

download (1)On the other hand, what if we are not faced with a coin here but with a Mobius Strip.  So there are not two sides but only one side.  Unlike a two-sided coin, there is no division in a Mobius Strip.  This is more of an Eastern perspective on life.  Thus, being rolls into doing without any breaks and doing rolls back into being.  Life is simply be-do-be-do-be-do.  If this is what life is really about, then trying to separate the two ideas is simply impossible.  When I do, I am being and when I am being, I am doing.

Can I be kind, without doing kind?  Can I be a good person, without doing good deeds?  Can I be a management consultant without doing any consulting.  Can I be a writer without doing any writing?  Can I be a lover without making love?  Can I ever separate being from doing?

To paraphrase Ecclesiastes: “Confusion of confusion.  All is confusion.”  I do not know who I am or what I be or if I should be instead of do or if I should do instead of be.

If only, I were a rich man!

“The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!  They would ask me to advise them.  Like Socrates the smart one or Solomon the wise one.  ‘If you please, Dr. Persico.  Pardon me, Dr. Persico.  What is the difference between being and doing Dr. Persico?  Should I BE first Dr. Persico and then DO or should I DO first and then BE, Dr. Persico?’  Solving problems that would perplex a genius or a wise man.  And it won’t make a damn bit of difference if I am right or wrong, cause when you are rich, they really think you know!”  — (Paraphrased from The Fiddler on the Roof)

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So now I return to where I first started.  I will conclude this short excursion into exploring who or what I am with the continuation of Hamlet’s soliloquy that I started this missive with.  Indeed it seems a very fitting and perhaps cautionary way to end this short excursion into the meaning of my life.

Says Hamlet:

“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep;

No more; and by a sleep, to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That Flesh is heir to?”

 

 

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jennygirl1278
    May 13, 2020 @ 04:05:45

    I would have been first in line to participate in a group designed for those over 60 who are still asking what they want to be when they grow up! I can identify with a lot of what you said because I am one of those thinkers! Socrates sounds like an OCD thinker. 😊
    Your reference to the line in the famous song in Fiddler on the Roof made me think of all the Chump followers. They believe what he says because he is rich and naturally if someone is that rich, there must be genius behind it. Not in this case! 😃
    Great blog…..

    Reply

  2. Dr. John Persico Jr.
    May 13, 2020 @ 07:51:32

    Thanks Jeanine. I agree with the Chump point. His followers think that because he is rich etc. Sad, that so many people believe that today or that because someone is a good business person, they will make a good president. Another fallacy. Anyway, probably too late for the group now. I have had a few other people who would like to join. 🙂

    Reply

  3. Jane Fritz
    May 16, 2020 @ 05:07:23

    I’m still trying to wrap my head around this piece, John. So well written and thought-provoking, as always, but it makes me wonder about when you will stop beating yourself up and starting appreciating your accomplishments. Didn’t you get fulfillment out of interaction with some of your students? Don’t forget that even if we have made a difference in the life of one person we have had an impact. What about in your consulting practice? Didn’t you make a difference in the life of any of your clients, perhaps to get them to see things differently for themselves? No matter what we “do when we grow up”, aren’t those results the ones that are important? 😊

    Reply

    • Dr. John Persico Jr.
      May 16, 2020 @ 08:37:05

      Thanks Jane for the comments and support. I tell myself the same things that you mentioned but my head and heart are too different things. I grew up in a very abusive family and the emotional impact of that on my sisters and I still linger for those of us still alive. Somehow, no matter what I do, it never seems good enough. I can hear the voices in my head saying “If you have to compliment yourself, it can’t be very good.” I know that is my father’s voice but I just can’t seem to get rid of it. Years of counseling helped me to overcome my OCD but so far not my feelings of inferiority. But I keep trying and I appreciate comments from you very much. John

      Reply

      • Jane Fritz
        May 16, 2020 @ 09:46:36

        That was what I guessed was at the root of this issue. Isn’t it incredibly sad the damage that can be done to innocent young children through no fault of their own, often by parents or others who are like that because they were treated the same way and it’s the only way they know. You have lived a fuller life than most, having gone through all kinds of twists and turns that many people that you will have encountered as colleagues ( as I might have been, for example) would never have encountered or had to deal with and simply would not know that people’s background could be so different. Even your military experience … my goodness! You should be immensely proud of yourself for what you have accomplished and just rest on enjoying your current life in retirement. Repeat these words as often as necessary!!! 🙂

  4. Dr. John Persico Jr.
    May 16, 2020 @ 11:10:12

    Thanks Jane, I will work on it. I always say that I am not blaming my parents for my life after I turned 18 and left home. From then on, it is my 100 percent responsibility for what I become and who I am. I have managed to erase some old tapes, in fact, quite a few but not all yet. I guess I might have a few more years to get rid of more of them. 🙂 With a little help from my friends.

    Reply

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