Monday, March 7, 2016

How Stats and Heidegger Showed Me that I Exist (or Happy Birthday to Me)

As the Nautilus ages it grows by adding additional
chambers to house itself throughout its life cycle.
As we age, we grow, too - just not as obviously.

Saturday was my 47th birthday. It's been a tough birthday to face down. In three short years, I will be 50. I kept thinking all weekend, "Wasn't I just 25 last year?" But I was not. It's time for me to face facts: I am getting older. I am not a girl; I am a woman and a middle-aged woman at that.

Between the breast surgery (the masses were not cancerous, but the surgery is still painful), the pneumonia I'm still fighting off, and the ups and downs of everyday life, I have realized that my life is passing by me very quickly. I am struck by the fact that I have wasted a great deal of time and I am filled with regrets.

This is not the first time I have faced down a tough birthday. When I was turning 29 I had been married for about 7 years and had two kids and had already had a couple of miscarriages. Something was missing and I couldn't lay my finger on it. I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life and time was passing me by in a flurry of day-to-day sameness. Struggling with depression, I checked myself into the hospital in order to sort out some of my more self-destructive issues and realized that I hated what I was doing. I was bored by the "sameness" of it all: Get up. Go to work. Come home. Eat dinner. Kiss kids. Lose time on the internet. Go to bed. Repeat daily.

As I looked back over my 20s, I regretted not getting to "have fun" as if "fun" was the end all and be all of existence. To shake things up, I did some things I am not proud of and destroyed many relationships in the process. It has taken almost 20 years to repair some of them, and others will never recover. No, fun was not the answer. It was a change, but not for the better.

As I entered my 40s, I can remember, once again, feeling like there was something missing. My kids were getting older, but I was not in a place where I could effectively help them navigate the transition into adulthood. After some soul-searching, I decided at 42 to go back to school and get my Bachelor's degree in Philosophy. Best decision I ever made.

Now, I am working on a Master's Degree I only partially care about having. I want to study Philosophy, but in the absence of a local program, I am taking a Master's in Business Administration instead. I enjoy learning and seek new information all the time, but Business Administration is not something that fascinates me. It simply doesn't captivate me like Philosophy did and does. So, as I was in recovery from my surgery last month, I decided that life was entirely too short to waste my time on things that I hate to do. I came back determined to finish the semester and then drop the program.

This Saturday, as I got up to attend my first Stats class, I was more annoyed about my chosen program than ever. What a way to celebrate my birthday: taking a class I was dreading and had no interest in taking. I made myself get dressed and go anyway. And I am so glad I did!

I gained understanding of a concept that eluded me before, and in that moment a hundred other pieces fell into place as well. I realized that it is through struggle and change that we know that we are living. Not just alive, but living. It is in finding Understanding, no matter where it is, that I find joy.

In his work Being and Time, Martin Heidegger characterizes Being (as in existence) as Da-sein. Translated from the German literally it means "There Being" or "Being There". The English doesn't quite capture the nuance of Heidegger's idea, though. There are a couple of ways that you can say "there" in German. There is "dort" which is a more fixed sense of "there" and there is "da" which contains a sense of movement, as well as a sense of arrival. Consequently, Da-sein projects itself into the future, and because of that, there is a sense of motion to Heidegger's Da-sein that pushes it forward. If you are always going to be "there", then you are never "here", because once you "arrive" you are not going anywhere else. (I know --dense --but stay with me.)

In highly simplified terms, Heidegger's concept means that when we stop changing, when we stop growing or decaying, when we stop moving forward, we cease to be. As I was learning how to calculate a standard deviation this realization hit me like a lightning bolt: pushing myself to be in the next place will never be a waste of time. As long as I am learning, pushing and growing, I am not wasting my life. I am simply becoming more of what I am created to be.

As I have made my way through the first few months of the MBA program, I have found that my passion for Philosophy has come into play in unique ways. I have used it in leadership and management classes, in Economics and now in Statistics. I have always believed that Philosophy is the root of all learning, but it is truly the search for Understanding that fires my passion.

There is a pattern to all life - there are relationships that are not always obvious to the naked eye -and understanding this is what fascinates me about Philosophy. So, taking these classes is an opportunity for me to see the relationships that I have missed between business and Philosophy. This should be interesting.

At the very least, I can say I exist.

Photo credit: "X-ray Nautilus Shell" by Bert Myers via

1 comment:

  1. I love this! Thank you!!! I am presently writing a book about the chambered nautilus- and it is fascinating! Did you know it is the only sea creature that can go 2000 feet deep and still come back to the surface alive!? It is a very long living cephalopod- beyond 20 years! And it uses jet propulsion to swim as fast as 2 knots or more and can swim in any direction. :) GO deep, go long and go where God's tides will take you! blessings and pax, melissa overmyer