Simone de Beauvoir and the Quest for Fulfillment

Skye Cleary is a philosopher and teaches at Columbia University and the City University of New York. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of the American Philosophical Association blog and has been an international stock arbitrageur and management consultant for more than ten years. She won the New Philosopher Writers’ Award in 2017 and was a MacDowell Fellow in 2021.

Below, Skye shares 5 key takeaways from her new book, How to be authentic: Simone de Beauvoir and the search for vicarious agentst. Listen to the audio version – read by Skye herself – on the Next Big Idea app.

How to be Authentic: Simone de Beauvoir and the Quest for Fulfillment by Skye Cleary

1. Become the poet of your own life.

Authenticity is often portrayed as “just being yourself”. As if you find your authentic self by looking deep and thinking hard.

But for Simone de Beauvoir – a brilliant 20th-century French philosopher, writer and activist – authenticity is not something you find. Authenticity is something you create. Authenticity is a process of intentionally choosing who you become. Authenticity is an ongoing adventure towards self-creation and self-renewal.

Beauvoir was the poet of her own life. She was brave and pushed back what was expected of her, not least by becoming a philosopher, which was particularly unusual for women in the 1930s and appalled her parents. Her book from 1949, The second sex, about the situation of women as secondary to men, catapulted her to stardom. She became an iconoclast fighting against oppressions such as sexism and classism.

Just like writing a poem, there are no specific rules for composing an authentic self. Everyone creates their own rhythms, rhymes and patterns. The traces we leave behind through our actions are the constantly evolving basis of our lives. When we let others write our poem for us or copy someone else’s, we stop being authentic.

“Authenticity is what you are create.”

To become the poet of your life, you have to be committed. Set goals. try things. daring. Make mistakes. question yourself. Questions: How do I intentionally compose the next stanza in my life poem? Becoming the poet of our lives challenges us to stop trying so hard to be the person everyone else expects us to be.

2. Dare to let go of ideas about yourself.

In Beauvoir’s novel When things of the mind come first, Marguerite is possessed by Denis. Margaret tries So It’s hard to be the kind of bohemian cool girl she thinks Denis wants. When Denis leaves her, Marguerite realizes that she has sabotaged herself by becoming overly attached to a fixed identity.

It’s reassuring to stick to scripts we think we should be. It’s comforting to believe in a blueprint that can show us what the right choices are in our lives to unlock eternal happiness and fulfillment. But there is no fixed self-coded in our being that we can refer to to check if we are authentic. We are complex and fragmented beings, constantly evolving. We will forever be different from what we were yesterday.

It may sound scary, but such is the dizziness of freedom. The fear of human existence is not knowing how our life is going to turn out. But freedom is also liberating. Every day opens up new opportunities for you to stretch in new directions. Marguerite is confused by the idea of ​​recreating herself without Denis, but she realizes: “What precious time I wasted! … The world shone like a new dime, and while I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do with it, anything was possible.”

When we let go of fixed ideas about ourselves, anything becomes possible.

3. Build intersubjective relationships.

We are relational beings. Other people and the environment form our inescapable reality. Other people reflect aspects of our existence back to us. We experience who we are through interactions with the world, and to be authentic we must consider others and our surroundings.

Back to Marguerite and Denis. Denis broke from expectations of what a grown man should do: no job, seduces women for their wealth. But from Beauvoir’s point of view, Denis is not authentic. Obligations and responsibilities mean nothing to him. He is not free because he is self-absorbed and trapped by animal impulses.

“Every day gives you new opportunities to stretch in new directions.”

Our existence is caught between what Beauvoir called being for others and being for oneself. If you lose yourself too much in being for others, you will lose yourself like Marguerite did when she was with Denis. Too much being on one’s own is selfish and selfish. You will miss important insights that others are revealing about your existence. Denis misses authenticity because he manipulates others and treats them as objects for his own ends. It exists purely in the manner of being-for-itself.

The precarious space between the two extremes of be-for-yourself and being-for-others This is where intersubjective relationships thrive. In an intersubjective relationship, we recognize that other people are subjects just like we are. These relationships are based on freedom and responsibility, not domination and exploitation. Intersubjective relationships respect that other people’s lives are as rich as our own and that their suffering and joy can be as real and raw as ours.

4. Foster a rebellious spirit.

Being the poet of our own life doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want. Dostoyevsky suggested that when God is dead, anything goes. Beauvoir argued that whether God is dead or alive, everything exists Not walk. If we respect freedom for ourselves, we must also respect freedom for others. Mankind is like stones in an arch: the steadier the stones, the steadier the arch. When individuals thrive, we all thrive. Our freedoms are interdependent, as long as there is oppression none of us can realize ourselves in a morally authentic sense.

Imagine you are in a bumper car at a fairground. The arena is the human condition. Our ecosystem is the electric roof or that drives us. We are separate but connected. We all go our own ways. We bounce off each other and the barriers around us. It’s even fun to meet other people, but we still have to take care of each other so we don’t fall. If someone gets hurt, we have to intervene. The goal is for us all to drive around and have fun, but safely without doing any harm.

We will get in each other’s way at times, but as long as we don’t suppress each other, we become like the drag under a bird’s wings, affecting direction, speed, and trajectory, but not preventing the bird from flying.

5. Chasing happiness will not make you happy.

Happiness is not something you aim for directly. We are not empty vessels to be filled with things that make us happy. New shoes, new phones, reaching new goals, or even winning the lottery might make us happy for a moment, but then we feel pretty much the same again. Chasing happiness is what philosophers and psychologists call a trap hedonic treadmill where we always long for the next dopamine rush. It’s easy to slide through life like Denis, jumping from one pleasure to the next, but such a life is an unfulfilled cycle of repetition. Our best avenues of happiness are by taking risks and boldly leaping toward new goals.

“Beauvoir didn’t chase happiness, but Beauvoir found that happiness can be a side effect of authenticity.”

In the 1930s, Simone de Beauvoir settled into a comfortable life in Paris. She had a nice apartment. Every morning there was coffee and croissants. She hung out in smoky jazz bars with other soon-to-be famous thinkers and artists, drinking apricot cocktails. She was in a committed relationship with another philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. She had written a few essays and short stories, but Sartre accused her of being shy about writing. Beauvoir realized he was right, so she began working on a bolder book based on the juicy details of her own life. The novel was called She came to stay. After this book she wrote another. Then another. And then many more.

Beauvoir didn’t chase happiness, but Beauvoir found that happiness can be a side effect of authenticity. That is: taking responsibility for one’s own life, seizing one’s freedom and taking risks to boldly pursue and exceed one’s goals, as well as making intersubjective connections with other people and the world, and supporting others to do the same.

Don’t waste time searching for your authentic self. Start becoming the poet of your own life at the moment. In Beauvoir’s words: “Change your life today. Don’t bet on the future, act now and without delay.”

To hear the audio read by author Skye Cleary, download the Next Big Idea app today:

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