Become what you are.
—– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
It would seem to be the easiest thing in the world, wouldn’t it?
“Become what you are.”
But if it were the easiest thing in the world, why would the wise and worldly Goethe have felt the need to proclaim it, and why would it be preserved by Google among famous quotations?
An obvious answer is that it isn’t so easy as it sounds. But why not? A couple of possibilities:
We’re all brought up from earliest days with expectations freely donated by family, friends, teachers and the like. We’re among the lucky ones if those expectations match up with our skills, aptitudes, and predilections. Often they don’t; but what do we know? We’re young, untried, inexperienced. We simply try harder and harder. We may actually succeed; and in the process, lose contact altogether with the self within who once upon a time spoke urgently to us.
That’s one possibility. Another lies in the very first word of Goethe’s injunction: Become. No one (I hope) believes any longer in tabula rasa, that we are blank slates at birth upon which anyone and anything can write what they will. But our genes do not produce finished products; they merely contain our possibilities. We’re not born blank slates, nor are we born as what we will ultimately be. We are always in the process of becoming.
We might say that at birth, we are first drafts, and then we spend our lives rewriting ourselves. (Well, if we’re writerly by temperament we might say that.) We’re never there, wherever there is. We’re always a work in progress, always experimenting, discerning, challenging, refining. It’s tiring. Get tired enough, and it’s tempting to give up, to freeze into a fixed position, and call it a day/life.
Those are two reasons I see for needing Goethe’s bracing dictum: Become what you are. Maybe you see other reasons; or maybe you feel that he (and I) are on the wrong track entirely. Whatever, let’s initiate a forum for your thoughts on identity and personality, perhaps even character, and how they develop.