pathway in a redwood forest

In his collection of writings, Hermann Hesse said, “Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is” (h/t Brain Pickings). I reflected on this quote as a walked among the California redwoods last week during the first family vacation we had taken in over two years.

Hesse’s words were paired with the ideas I’m currently digesting in Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing. In particular, there is moment when Odell discuses the connection between proponents of a “personal brand” and seeking authenticity within the context of capitalism. After illustrating this nexus using Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist, she notes:

When the language of advertising and personal branding enjoins you to “be yourself,” what it really means is “be more yourself,” where “yourself” is a consistent and recognizable pattern of habits, desires, and drives that can be more easily advertised to and appropriated, like units of capital. In fact, I don’t know what a personal brand is other than a reliable, unchanging pattern of snap judgments: “I like this” and “I don’t like this,” with little room for ambiguity or contradiction.

Hiking in northern California didn’t offer me much time for quiet reflection–what with also trying to make sure Mr. 5 didn’t fall down a mine shaft–but it did give me time to be with a version of my self that wasn’t trying to be a specific version of my self. I need these moments more and more these days, as I continue to [re]balance self care and vocational ambition.