My Philosophy from Sartre to Calvin and Hobbes

Tim Burns
5 min readApr 10, 2022

I’ve been an amateur philosopher for all my life. I’ve dabbled in Atheistic Existentialism, and Zen Buddhism, and now I’m trying to figure out where to go next.

During college, a roommate introduced me to the book Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre. The book saved my life. Each chapter was a gift that allowed me to deconstruct the toxic influences that made me unhappy.

I identified deeply with Roquentin, the protagonist of the story, who systematically deconstructs his delusions: family, work, love, religion, and knowledge. Gradually, he realizes that he, alone, determines his identity and his worth comes from within, not from the labels or responsibilities that others expect of him.

Before I was 20, the most toxic presence in my life at the time was my family and friends. When I decided to define myself outside of their expectations, it felt like coming out of a dank cell and into a bustling market, filled with freedom and opportunity. All the weight and constraints of having to be who others wanted me to be, or who they thought I was, all fell away. I felt like Marsinah in Kismet, skipping through the market and transforming into the person I wanted to be.

Marsinah in the Market, Kismet, 1955

After embracing the ideas of atheist existentialism, I understood that the expectations of others didn’t matter. The only thing that did matter is that I chose my actions that would lead to the consequences that I wanted for myself.

During the team I was reading and rereading Nausea, I was continually asked the question, “What is your major?” At that time, I had an official answer, “Mathematics.” It was sufficiently rigorous a study to shut down their perennial judgment, but I wasn’t going to get on board with any nonsense of having to justify myself by projecting a useful role in society that I would assume once the college money ran out. “Oh, so you want to be a teacher” was the smug response from my academic parents. My response was, “No. I want to be a professional ballet dancer.” Because that’s why I was studying Mathematics. It had the least number of core requirements of any major and I was able to justify my tuition while at the same time doing what I really wanted to do, which was dance.

Tim Burns

Data Architect. See my blog My opinions are my own.