Examination of a quote
“What does not kill me makes me stronger.”
–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
A quote often misquoted, and I think often misunderstood. Or maybe Johann was just wrong.
Most people, I think, would say that it means that surviving adversity makes you stronger in your faith, you convictions, and yourself. That when you emerge from the trial by fire, you are yourself, as before, only better, more powerful, to use the word from the quote, stronger.
I think this is wrong. A better thing to say would be, ‘What does not kill me, changes me.’
Whenever you are given a trial in life, a challenge, a joy, a pain, anything, you are never the same. Not neccessarily better or stronger, but different. At least you should be. If you are not changed by the events of your life, then you learned nothing from having lived it.
This leads me to a thought I had once and that I still hold on to today.
I have often been a part of a conversation that most people have with friends at some point. Its the “If you could go back and do anything one thing in your life different, what would it be?” conversation.
This can bring out very important information about someone. If they tell you about a missed job opportunity (not a money one, but a whole carreer change) there is a good chance that person is not happy in their job and would be happier if they took the risk and pursued the once missed path. Or they might tell you about a lost love, usually showing that when they get into relationships they don’t fully open up and because they once missed out on love, they’ll probably miss out on more because they don’t want that regret a second time in life. Or they do the opposite and open their hearts to every person to come even remotely close because the thought of missing another chance at love is too much, and so they convince themselves they love people that they don’t. There are more examples, but I’m not going through them all…
My point of this sidetrack, the thought that I had once and still hold: If you are happy with the life that you have and the person that you are, you cannot have regrets. Not real regrets, not the kind that would fit in with the above conversation. You can regret having hurt someone by leaving, but you cannot regret the leaving itself. And you cannot regret opportunities you didn’t take or the ones that you did. You can’t because each and every thing that you have done has shaped and molded you into the person that you are, and if you regret a choice in your past, then you also regret being you and are lying to yourself about being happy.
Am I happy?
For the most part. I regret nothing of my past, its made me who I am. I am a little disappointed in my present, but only when it comes to my job, and I’m working on that.
And my future?
Looks pretty good from here. I’ll let you know when I get there.
So back to the main point. If it doesn’t kill you, you learn, you adapt, you change, you grow… or at least I hope you do.
21 March 2001
Examination of a quote