If You Could Be Someone Else, Would You?

Jul 17, 2017 · 283 comments
Helena Handbasket (Wisconsin)
"Be yourself; everybody else is already taken."

- attributed to Oscar Wilde
Vox Populi (Cambridge)
A more provocative question might be, "If you could live your life again, would you?" Or possibly, "If you had another chance, what would you be?"
George N. Wells (Dover, NJ)
To aspire to be "like" somebody else, to acquire some of their best characteristics can be considered to be a good thing. To become somebody else, erasing yourself in the process, is pathological and a sign of mental illness.

The dividing line may be thin but it is clear. Being inspired to work/train/study harder to acquire the positive aspects you see in another will generally bring out your best and you will discover more about yourself in the process.

To try and become a totally different person by shedding your own personality is a fools-goal. In the end your idol is human with foibles that you never imagined. Jules Feiffer had a great cartoon on this subject where the character finds himself in a great circle of imitation.
zeitgeist (London)
A good question. But the question assues that we are different from the other which , on deeper thinking we are not . We and they and all of humanity and life forms and non-life forms all together constitute the spectrum of one subjective reality which is our reality. How can we change our places in the well fitting scheme of things ?

Can the yellow color of the rainbow exchange places with the red or green or with any other color ? If at all it does does it make any sense ? Life is colorful and each one of us contributes our color to the many hued spectrum of life .

Our universe consists of pairs of opposites.Light and darkness, good and evil, health and illness, wealth poverty and so on.The opposites are like two sides of a coin . One side alone does not make a coin. Without the obverse side the reverse side does not exist . Without lies Truth itself does not exist. The point being made is , just like Truth and lies , light and darkness cannot exchange places nor wish to do that like-wise its meaningless to live any other part than what you yourselves are in one' appointed role and function to make everyone's life meaningful. Sometimes i feel that an ultra rich person is myself in another aspect of mine and not different from me. Same with a beggar,or an amputee.

Ultimately all life-forms are the same energy of the sun reflecting from scattered atoms at different points at the same distance from the sun.So,whats the difference we are talking about?
Navya (India)
Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches. Don't want anyone else's shoes.
James Griffin (Santa Barbara)
Since we are in the land of make believe I wish I could be everybody else. Surprise! We are everybody else! Embrace your selves. Love your selves.
Hard to do with some selves, but most selves are like our selves.
8 billion selfies staring back at one's self, daunting.
Chris Harnish (Novato, CA)
Great Question.
Years ago, in the middle of a divorce and hard times, I found myself admiring the lives of other people and wishing that I could swap lives. I challenged myself: Who's life would I swap with? The rules of the swap were that I had to take everything in their life; their wallet, their job, their responsibilities, relationships, reputation, their wife (all of her), their health, stress level, phobias and quirks.

It turned out to be a very valuable challenge.
I was surprised to find that I was unwilling to swap lives with even those who I admired most. This little challenge allowed me to drop the upset in my life and move on to make my life a positive experience. It allowed me to stop complaining and celebrate the joys of of my life.
L’Osservatore (Fair Verona where we lay our scene)
I see Christians living a vividly realized walk with Jesus Christ and wish I had the energy to do the same. Believers have the same health and other tragedies that others go through, but they never have to go through them alone.
Keely (NJ)
I've never necessarily wanted to be someone else- I just always wished I had other peoples genes. Superior genes, that would grant me the brain of a Hawking or Oppenheimer, good genes that might make me as athletic as Serena or as beautiful as Beyonce. Which begs the question: do genes make us who we are? Having been born with an inherited disorder its left me visibly disfigured, something I grapple with every day as I walk city streets. No one's ever going to say I look as pretty as Beyonce- but I've realized I'm glad for it, because Beyonce doesn't have my traits, talents, thoughts, all the experiences that "difference" has taught me. Why would I want to be anyone else? There will never be another me.
LemmiTellia (Florida)
I've been me for nearly 71 years. My husband, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson seem to like me a lot, not to mention I've tried to improve myself in various ways over my lifetime, so, really, I have no major complaints about myself. Though I could get over my cold a little faster, please, self.
aberta (NY)
I think I would want to be a better me, that would make the experiences and lifestyle I think I admire possible. I also think that it is important, so far as is practical, to walk a mile in someone else's shoes to understand more fully who and why. Remember the principle of going the second mile. The first mile is the obligation of the captive, the second is voluntary and where the reward for servitude is realized. When you voluntarily help to carry another's burden you may gain more than just a stronger back.
Tony Longo (Brooklyn)
Can I be young, beautiful and rich? Actually I'll take any two out of three.
aberta (NY)
The author uses a lot of words to describe something that is impossible, so, in essence is saying nothing at all. For you to be me or for me to be you would require me to have had all the experiences that you have ever had, moreover the same biochemical makeup (meaning DNA) and environment. That is not only improbable, it is impossible. I would like to experience some of what you experience using my own personal perspective and biochemical composition as a filter, thereby giving me an entirely different you, eg, not you.
Alfred Kelly (Clinton, NY)
There's a problem with the premise of the article: A trade would have to be agreed to by both parties. But If I wanted someone else's life, he would know that I think that his life is better than mine. So why would he agree to trade?
gaaah (NC)
At some deeper level, you already are those who you wish to be. That desire
you have is as good (or even better) than the having. The
eastern philosophies teach the quelling of desire, but I think desire is a good
thing, even essential. To live life with all desires satisfied or suppressed is
static, boring, even dead. How are you to move forward or develop without
desire? In fact, I think to simulate desire will be a central and perhaps
insurmountable obstacle for AI scientists to attain a strong AI. It's the
very core of human behavior, yet its origin is quite a mystery.
Vox Populi (Cambridge)
In trying to answer this question we are led to introspect on our core being. Upon reflection an overwhelming number of us conclude we want to be ourselves after all! An other's experience here or someone's personality there may catch our fancy of the moment but rarely the entirety of that person's life as we see it. As we progress through life we gather experiences and gain a maturity so what catches our "....want to be" keeps changing also. As the author concedes and rightly so, an exception may exist for those who have led extraordinarily difficult lives plagued by a constant deluge of adversities. We have all met such individuals. However, we must remember when we look at them or ourselves we do so from a relative perspective of comparison. Our near term history is not wanting in events of prolonged human suffering as those who had to live in German concentration camps with the ever present threat of horrific death; those who experienced the misery of witnessing genocides as refugees; or even lets say migrants who make repeated and futile attempts to cross into our country in search of better lives; and at a more personal level those who have faced a series of lifelong debilitating health impairments or loss of multiple loved ones. But even in these instances the individual's inner being may predominate. That's Life!!!!
Doctor Bob (Toronto)
I think I *am* someone else. Just not sure who I was when I wished to be me.
Jack Sonville (Florida)
I would be George Clooney or Tom Brady. Except for the part about the deal they each made with Satan for their souls.
Chris (Jhb)
No need. To quote the Moody Blues, "just what you want to be, you will be in the end."
Binnie (Columbus, OH)
I am just astounded at how unimaginative the majority of respondents seem to be. I'll bet in reality they whine all day long about their lives. When I first read the headline of this article, Michelle Obama immediately came to mind. Sure enough, she was the first name mentioned as a possible choice in the article.
I'd trade places with this woman whose life I much admire, even taking all the slights, large and small that she must have endured along the way. I'm a 75 year old white woman, so this is a stretch.
Snip (Canada)
Would we want to be another person at the expense of not having truly loved the people we love(d)? Surely not. Love defines our identities.
Nobody You Know (probably) (USA)
"If You Could Be Someone Else, Would You?"

Absolutely, in a New York microsecond.
If I could, I'd be Jerry Garcia.
Well, except, of course, for the being dead part.
ChesBay (Maryland)
Nope, I'd rather go back and be a better me.
Petey tonei (Ma)
In Tibetan Buddhism, there's a beautiful practice of tonglen literally meaning giving and taking. You don't have to physically take anyone's place, by breath alone you fully understand their difficulties and wish them the best to wade through their challenges. (Mind you these practices originated way before the Buddha, in ancient Indian subcontinent).
"In the practice, one visualizes taking in the suffering of oneself and of others on the in-breath, and on the out-breath giving recognition, compassion, and succor to all sentient beings. As such it is a training in altruism.

The function of the practice is to:

reduce selfish attachment
increase a sense of renunciation
purify karma by giving and helping
develop and expand loving-kindness and bodhicitta."
Similarly the practice of Metta or loving kindness allows one to exchange places with those you dislike, those you love and those you are neutral towards. https://tricycle.org/magazine/metta-practice/
Bruce1253 (San Diego)
YOU set the rules for your life. You don't HAVE to do anything. You are ALLOWED to be happy. You don't DO / GET something to be happy; you ARE happy, then you get to do something.
Binx Bolling (Palookaville)
"of course, there is nothing wrong with aspiration in itself."
Perhaps there is. Perhaps that is the central problem of existence.

"When I don’t compare, I understand what I am… Throughout life, from childhood, from school until we die, we are taught to compare ourselves with another; yet when I compare myself with another I am destroying myself...

"That’s what we are doing throughout life. Now, can I live without comparison—without comparison with anybody? This means there is no high, no low—there is not the one who is superior and the other who is inferior. You are actually what you are and to understand what you are, this process of comparison must come to an end. If I am always comparing myself with some saint or some teacher, some businessman, writer, poet, and all the rest, what has happened to me—what have I done? I only compare in order to gain, in order to achieve, in order to become—but when I don’t compare I am beginning to understand what I am. Beginning to understand what I am is far more fascinating, far more interesting; it goes beyond all this stupid comparison."
- J. Krishnamurti
Anonymous (Seattle)
No parents, no kids, no significant other. Yes, I'd like to be someone else.
brian (boston)
Of course, in being someone else, you would merely become who you think that "someone else," is. The trouble is, they are not, and now you're stuck.
Jim (Santa Barbara, CA)
It would be interesting to be Jesus...
Jim Dwyer (Bisbee, AZ)
I am someone else.
Chyllyn Grener (Canada)
Could I be your #45 but bring my brain and heart to that body?
janetintexas (texas)
I was born in the same year in the same hospital as Annette Bening -- so how come she's her and I'm me? Would I trade places with her? In a second.
Bert Floryanzia (Sanford, NC)
"There" is no better than "here".

If/when my "there" becomes my "here",
another "there" will present it/him/her self.

An endless cycle of envy would ensue.

The grass is green enough right where I'm standing.

Besides, I don't want anyone else's problems.

Given the choice, I'll take my own.
DSwanson (TN)
I have always said that if you envy someone, you have to be willing to take their entire life.

That never appealed until I got old, broke and sick. Now? Sign me up. I could use a do over in a 20 year old body.
Don (Bangkok, Thailand)
What a ridiculous article. It starts out with the fantasy of wanting to be someone else--that part's OK--then gets into the reality of not having the same family, children, etc. If you were someone else, you wouldn't have any knowledge of your current life because (wait for it) you'd be someone else.
S.S.Jr. (USA)
I like my life just the way it is and with all the up's and down and still want to be me!
J (US of A)
Yes, I would be Trump so I could kill myself and help the country.
Prairie Populist (Le Sueur, MN)
Want to be someone else? A depressing thought, because it entails rejecting who we now are. I've had a pretty rough journey, but now near the end, early scars don't ache so much. I would never want to be anyone else. If I were, then I wouldn't have loved the people I've loved, sailed the oceans I've sailed, understand the things I understand.

A better idea: Be yourself, but work at jettisoning some of the dysfunctional habits you picked up early on and that still hold you prisoner. If you do, you can then be happier and like who you are. Then you will not yearn to be anyone else.
metaphorical (Jackson Hole)
A person's circumstances--where you stand on Maslow's hierarchy--has so much to do with who you are and what you become. Lots of kind, thoughtful, brilliant, gifted, talented people who live in grinding poverty never have access to opportunities to reach their potential. Every higher rung on the ladder improves a person's possibilities. That doesn't mean that everyone takes advantage of or benefits from that position--it just means there are fewer impediments to those motivated to do so. Motivation thrives on even small successes. Our society would do well to work toward reducing inequality and finding ways to lift people up.
Plennie Wingo (Weinfelden, Switzerland)
Certainly not anyone with 'money' There is a great old Irish saying: "If you want to know what God thinks about money, just look at the people he gives it to."
KJ (Tennessee)
I'd like to be myself, minus several decades. The things I could do better, the mistakes I could avoid, the experiences I wouldn't miss, the debauchery I could, well, maybe tone down a bit ....
billy pullen (Memphis, Tn)
Know thyself...wait, some smart guy already said that a while back.
Lingonberry (Seattle, WA)
Do not wish for someone else's life because there is always something that will foul up your wish. For instance, you hate beets and you find out once you have jumped into that person's existence that they adore eating beets. Now you have done it and there is no retreating and this miserable second life, beets and all, is yours forever. Better stay put in that old familiar body and soul because it could be a lot worse. I am a sure bet and I am sticking with me.
ML (Boston)
I'm a fiction writer. As many selves as one can imagine.
Rebecca (Mill Valley)
Rachel Weisz!
Margaret Piton (Montreal Canada)
I can think of one or two people I would like to have been--Lesley Blanch and Clare Hollingworth. Both were British writers who travelled everywhere, knew lots of interesting people and lived to be very old. Blanch wrote mainly about Russia and the Middle East, and was married to another famous writer, Romain Gary. She was also gorgeous.
Clare Hollingworth, who died more recently at 106, broke the story of the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and remained a war correspondent into her 80s. She was unafraid of gunfire, and believed of sleeping on the floor to keep in shape, with her packed bags beside her in case a call came about a war.
However, both these ladies are dead, so if I were one of them I would be dead too, not an attractive prospect. I might settle for Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy, who is still alive and travelling, I believe.
Frank (Durham)
You can wish to be in someone else's circumstances but you can't be someone else. If you are someone else, you are no longer yourself. And if you are no longer yourself, how would you know that you had changed?
esp (ILL)
The problem to this essay is found in the First sentence of the second paragraph.
"Or just someone you know who SEEMS to have a charmed life."
Who seems. We really do not know another to be able to see the problems that exist in their lives. No one has a charmed life. Everyone struggles with the difficulties in their lives.
It is much better to accept the reality of your life and try to improve it or correct it.
To admire someone is good, to try to be like that person is okay. But people have to life in their own skin.
Debbie (New York)
Not really, but I wouldn't mind looking like Audrey Hepburn. (I kind of short and klutzy).
William (South Africa)
I kinda like short and klutzy people ;)
gaaah (NC)
This question is too terribly abstract. You might as well ask what if the number 2 wanted to switch places with the number 7.
EQ (Suffolk, NY)
In other words, would Derek Jeter (2) want to trade places with Mickey Mantle (7)?
Given their respective fates, I doubt it.

But I would like to experience, for just one day, what it would be like to have the grace, speed, quickness and physical power necessary to play major league baseball like they did. But that's a far cry from wanting to be either of them.
We each have our own special place in the scheme of things.
D. DeMarco (Baltimore, MD)
I don't think I would want to be someone else, but I do wonder what my life would be like higher up the economic ladder.
Not a millionaire. But wealthy enough to have pursued an art or music. For work to be optional, not a necessity. To live at the beach. To travel. Be able to try my hand in business with plenty of start up capital.
Those are my what ifs.
David Blackburn (Louisville)
People see the fruits of others' labor and simply want the harvest, without the effort and discipline.
Petey tonei (Ma)
Not everyone understands it believe in reincarnation. Suppose for a second it is true, we evolve in our roles, we have all been male female, all religions, all nationalities. We build on our efforts in the past not just this lifetime. We switch roles as victim and perpetrator so we can get the others perspective. It is not reward or punishment it's the universes' compassionate offering to "ok now it's your turn".
William (Rhode Island)
Couldn't say it better than Gertrude Stein:
'I wish that I was where I am'
FlipFlop (Pacific NW)
This article starts from a false premise -- that we might want other people's experiences. In reality, many of us want other people's personalities.

I have had great experiences that my friends can't replicate. What I don't have is a sunny, guileless, extroverted demeanor. I would give anything to be a "people person." I think that would have made my life and career much easier. Yet, those are the qualities that you can't really learn.
John (Massachusetts)
I like my life because I like myself, shortcomings and all.
Jo (<br/>)
Easy question. Yes.
AnneH (New Jersey)
I'd like to be so utterly optimistic that the thought of wanting to be someone else would never even cross my mind.
Tim (Glencoe, IL)
You can't be someone else because you would no longer be you. You can't become someone else because you would then have a different past than the person you've become. No, you just have to be yourself. But, you can live in sympathy with other people and try to help them. It's the best way to enjoy others and the best way to make their experiences your own.
You are right Prof. May. I can't think of anyone I would trade with.

But knowing what I know now, I would rather restart my life with the knowledge I have now. I would only add the "talent" of a virtuoso violinist or piano to play sweet duets or trios with Hillary Hahn and Anne-Sophie Mutter.

On the other hand, if possible, I'd switch to being Trump just long enough to authorize the release of my tax returns and all other shenanigans that I (Trump) had done my entire life and give it to Mueller. Then I'd switch back to being myself ASAP. Other than that, Trump is the last person I would want to be, and could not in good conscience inflict Trump on my friends.
Xiaoshan (US)
Eh...why not just want what the other person have, selectively? That seems like a much less extreme desire. Besides, what does becoming the other person even mean? If one has the others' experience, memories, and emotions, then effectively one is no longer oneself anymore. I am not sure if there is such an absolute observer that is transferable - though that is perhaps the most interesting question: what are we, in essence, but observers in a shell?
2cents (<br/>)
I love me - but I'm inspired to an extent by Kris Jenner. I know what most are thinking - but what she has accomplished for and with her family, and to see her living it up and looking gorgeous at her age while doing it - I'd take that, but probably with a more age appropriate bf...
Stephen Hoffman (Harlem)
There is only one life, refracted through the prism of perception into many lives. Since there is only one life, I can’t trade mine for anyone else’s, even if I wish it were not raining today on my corner of the earth or that I had a dimple in my chin like George Clooney. I did not choose my life, any more than I chose to be born, and I have a fool’s right to curse my disadvantages as well as my birth. If I had your life, I would be you, and I would immediately lose my precious right to mourn my fate and feel sorry for myself. It is not for nothing that rationalist philosophers have complained that the phrase “alter ego” (other I) is a paradox and an impossibility. My life is your life. Recognizing the illusion of “personhood” (cultivated by centuries of philosophy, and eagerly sought after by the author, who seems anxious to preserve his paltry identity) is an essential step on the road to empathy.
Binx Bolling (Palookaville)
Exactly. "You are the world and the world is you." The question is pointless.
Nonorexia (<br/>)
Very glitzy reasons for envying another person, most especially the pre-check envy. Oooh, there's the rub, as the Bard once said.

Really? You want someone else's life? The people who live in "Compare and Despair" mode always and always match an identical profile: too afraid to work on themselves and allergic to self-acceptance. Please don't go there.
DMutchler (NE Ohio)
I wouldn't mind being God for a day. Yes, I know that comes across as blasphemous, but it is only because I so very much want to be there when many of you meet your maker.

Oh, the beer will be flowing and Hendrix (and Stevie) playing fine, but Lord (how funny to call myself!), how the fires will be burning bright! My fallen Angel will likely say "enough! I repent!" and then, peace.

Line up!
Peak Oiler (Richmond, VA)
Embrace who you are.

We have a "get famous quick" culture of reality TV. It sickens me, because an acquaintance attempted suicide after she lost on one of the shows.

Be yourself and be true to that person. In a few decades, you will be in the same place as the biggest celebrities, anyway.
Kathy Lollock (Santa Rosa, CA)
Would I be someone else if I could? Hmmm... Don't think so. Because at the end of the day we are who we are. We still have to look ourselves in the mirror and accept our imperfections. We all have to trek through the hard times and embrace the good times when they come, realizing that they don't last forever and that life has a funny way of balancing things out for us. You know, the good with the bad. I guess we all live that wonderful Pete Seeger song, TURN, TURN, TURN, based on Ecclesiastes. For you Gen Xes and Millennials, google it as sung by the Byrds. I think you will like it and identify with it. "For everything there is a season.."
Farley Helfant (Toronto)
There's a photo of Frank Sinatra walking down the boardwalk in Miami Beach- surrounded by muscle. I'd give anything to be Sinatra at the precise moment that picture was taken.
Richard Watt (New Rochelle, NY)
I want to be me. That's with my beautiful wife, sons and grandchildren. I want to be me, but a constantly improving version.
Anne (East Lansing, MI)
This makes me think of the poem "Richard Corey" and the last two stanzas:

"And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head."

As my late father used to say, we all have our own sack of rocks to haul. I wouldn't trade mine.
Debbie (New York)
My mom said if we all put our "sack of rocks" in the middle of the room and then all honestly described it's contents, we'd all pick up our own sack on the way out.
captjcook (Napa, CA)
Two people. One; I would liked to have been a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, a guy with my sensibilities.
Two, an officer or captain of a early 19th century frigate.
Here's a third. Someone who wandered around early 20th century East Africa.
Leave Capitalism Alone (Long Island NY)
What if I got to be that someone else and found that they wanted to be me?
Metrojournalist (New York Area)
Given my bad luck (despite working hard) and multiple health issues, I would change places in a heartbeat. I'd settle for reincarnation with a better shot at life.
Nonorexia (<br/>)
Hey, I've had a lion's share of bad luck. It's a blessing though, because I didn't wind up like Gary Busey or Lindsay Lohan.
doctorart (manhattan)
Above all, be yourself.
But if you can be Captain Kirk, then be Captain Kirk.
Nobody You Know (probably) (USA)
There's a greeting card on display in the window at my local art-supply store that I always kinda liked; I think it makes a good follow-on to both this article and your comment.
It reads:
"Be Yourself.
Everyone Else is Taken."
I wouldn't want to be anyone but myself, but I would like at some point in the future to encode myself in a computer program that would survive to witness the future. Maybe even migrate to another galaxy. (No Trump jokes, please.)
John LeBaron (MA)
If I could be someone else, I would choose Donald Trump for perhaps ten minutes with the guarantee of permanent reprieve at the end of that period. I have no idea what goes on behind a mouth that spews a language that, though superficially my own, seems more foreign to me than Urdu. What does it feel like to live behind that long, red tie? I'd like to know, but not for long.

Would it be carcinogenic? If so, I'd prefer being Barack or Michelle Obama, just to experience the deep thoughtfulness, the quick wit, the grasp of issues and the capacity to synthesize ideas in generosity of spirit. But only for ten minutes. After all, I'm me, not he, he or she.
Michael (San Francisco)
It is impossible to know if you want another person's life. We see what they allow us to see, like an iceberg -- you only see the top. Most of it is out of view. The ostensibly happy spouse who is secretly cheating on the other, the rich person who does not let anyone know they sold their soul to get where they are, or neglected their children, and live with intense regret, or who will die prematurely. When we think of wanting another's life, what we really mean is we want their money, or power, or looks, or whatever. But we cannot possibly want their life.
Pierce Randall (Atlanta, GA)
Well, being someone else is logically impossible: if you were somebody else, you wouldn't be you, which is absurd. So sure, I'd like to be someone else. But also I would not.

The non-crazily formulated version of the question isn't that interesting. If you could be different, more like someone else, would you be? It's hard to see why anyone should have a general view on whether or not they should be different. Almost everyone could improve in some ways and probably shouldn't change other things. I might wish that I had the intelligence, courage, or strength of other people, but I'd like to keep most of what I hope is my unique perspective on things.
Lynn (New York)
Perhaps the most thoughtful and reflective perspective I have read related to this issue is that of Jocelyn Bell.

Jocelyn Bell discovered pulsars. Her laboratory head dismissed her discovery, but eventually she convinced him that it was real. HE received the Nobel Prize, not her, and so rather than the career of a Nobel laureate, she spent many years in relatively junior positions.

Eventually, the importance of her contributions was recognized. When she was asked whether she regretted what happened, she said that regretting that would mean that she did not value the life she had lived.

In other words, if asked to "switch places" not with another person, but switch the life she actually lived with the life she was entitled by her achievements to live, she chose to value the life she did live.
Leave Capitalism Alone (Long Island NY)
You are getting far too cerebral. The question is more akin to what would you do if you won the lottery.
Nobody You Know (probably) (USA)
@ Leave Capitalism Alone, Long Island NY "You are getting far too cerebral."

Sir or Madam, that is simply not possible.
This is, after all, The New York Times.
David desJardins (Burlingame CA)
Another important philosophical question: If you could flap your arms and fly to the moon, or dig your way to the center of the earth, which would you choose?

Deep analysis of choices that no one actually has are not useful. And this isn't even deep analysis, it's just the author's personal off-the-cuff thoughts.
Miss Ley (New York)
Why does everything has been useful? Why is it all cabbages and no roses? And, to All of Our 'MeMes', and to Mr. desJardins, Breaking News from the NYTimes, 'For now, President Trump's effort to replace Obamacare is over'.
NMS (San Diego)
Alicia keys! Gorgeous talented successful well liked happy healthy ....

But I'd really like to be the person I was in the 80s before I got sick with Lyme disease. I would give anything to be able to live her life. I'm still hoping though, she might come back.
J.R. Solonche (Blooming Grove, NY)
Albert Einstein. Or Sandy Koufax.
FunkyIrishman (Eire ~ Norway ~ Canada)
I don't want to live anyone else's life, but I do wish I could go back and correct some mistakes that I made. ( seeing some of the results in hindsight )

However, on the flip side of that, I am not weighted down in my life that everyday I ask myself; '' what if ? ''

I just work harder and live better after having learned. Such is life.
It's Raining (USA)
I agree.
Che Beauchard (Lower East Side)
If I could be someone else, would I?

I could not be someone else, never mind who that someone else might be. If I were someone else I would be that person, and not me. Thus, the person that I would be is not the me that I be but would be that person instead. Can't see what would be in it for me.
Longestaffe (Pickering)
If I could be someone else, would I? I can answer that question before you finishing asking it. No.

How do I love me? Let me count the ways -- not. The list of ways in which I could be better (starting with better-looking!) might overrun the 1500-character limit, and I know all too well that it would not be limited to superficial things.

I know, I know. Still, I like the life I'm living in here. I also like the life I'm living outside, with the particular people close to me. Now, THOSE are people who really shouldn't be anyone else.

The most important lesson our parents teach us, however unconsciously, is that we're uniquely precious beings who deserve to be loved. That becomes the basis for loving others, valuing even the lives of strangers, and at least possessing the will to put ourselves in their places.

No, I'm not the first to have noticed that truth. Among the wise people who have pointed it out was Fred Rogers, who made a career of keeping it before our minds.
PJ (Northern NJ)
It's been posited that, if we were to sit at a table with a dozen and a half (or so) strangers, and in turn, recite all of our troubles, most of us would want to leave the table with the ones we brought with us, and no others.... So be careful what you wish for.
B.K. (Washington, D.C.)
I like the basic "what if", but the apparent contention that it can be evaluated simply in terms of comparing the genuine value of one's personal experiences and relationships with what can be assumed or predicted about the experiences of the given candidate seems superficial.

Surely for what I believe would be a very large number of people in the world who endure political chaos, or poverty, or emotional to physical abuse, or sincere deep regret over some material "wrong turns" in their lives, the overpowering consideration would be escape, pure and simple, from those awful conditions.

In short, I think the philosophical aspect of the question is "premature" in light of the degree of real suffering that occurs every day in this world, and that the proffered analysis will likely be true only for those who are already fairly well off in their lives, all things considered.
emily (montana)
I always find it interesting to read essays like this where the writer so values his/her own experiences, attachments, personhood etc. because I can't say that I feel at all similarly. I'm sure my life and relationships, etc. are just as interchangeable, meaningful, or interesting as anyone else's. Losing this 'me' is not a threatening or mournful proposition.
hammond (San Francisco)
I've never wanted to be any other particular person, and I've used this question often as a barometer on the progress of my life.

However, I've often wanted to be a different person for a brief period of time. More specifically, a woman, a person of color, and others who have lived, out of phenotypic or cultural necessity, very different lives than I have.

I've spent a lot of energy over the years trying to see the world from many different perspectives, but in the end I'm limited by my genetic and cultural endowments.
Brad (Oregon)
I wouldn't trade places with anybody.
It's not that my life's perfect, but my life is better than I could ever have imagined. I married the woman of my dreams, we built a life together, had and raised children that became good adults.
It may seem easier to look at what you don't have; try counting your blessings.
Mary (Wisconsin)
What if you didn't have precisely those experiences that you most value from your life, but wanted them more than anything? Would you make the trade then?
tony (undefined)
Roger Federer. The greatest tennis player of all time. Well-liked by the other players, admired by the public. In complete control of his own life, in control of his own destiny.
Nonorexia (<br/>)
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. He is in control of NOTHING. It is a gift from God, and he takes his cues from something far greater than Roger Federer. And if you asked him I would bet my soul he would agree with me. The most talented (no, not George Clooney, cheese!) are always the most humble.
Aj (OR)
Your accumulated choices are what you have control over, including which person/ people you admire and why. Don't worry about someone telling you that's a "wrong" choice. You might not get to be Roger Federer, but you've beautifully outlined exactly what is special about him. Outside of greatest tennis player of all time (maybe even that, but I don't know much about tennis), I'd say the rest of your reasons are absolutely achievable: you go for it, Tony!
Chyllyn Grener (Canada)
How is claiming special blessing from "God" being humble?
Iver Thompson (Pasadena, Ca)
If I wanted to be someone else and it happened, would I still have the original desire afterwards? If not, would I then be asking who am I? All over again? Speculation is such a futile endeavor.
cptodd (Chicago, IL)
Is it strange that I never wanted to be anyone else? I don't want anyone else's life. I really only want to be the best (AND THEN SOME) version of me. Of course I would love to have "lots" of money. But then again, I also don't want to have an amount that would sap my drive and/or leave me unable to anticipate things because I can have anything I want at any time. I would just like to be secure in the end. . . perhaps about $5 million in investments which I anticipate would bring me about $100,000 a year in income when invested reasonably. No more than that, please. That would allow me to have to continue to work but also not leave me completely exposed and vulnerable if something bad were to happen.
Sketco (Cleveland, OH)
I wish I could recall the source of this quote I came across decades ago: "Nothing is as simple as another person's life appears." It's kept me from wishing I were someone else.
richguy (t)
I'm 5' 7" and it would be easier to get dates if I were 6' 1". I wish I had the last decade back.

On Saturday, I saw one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. She was with a very average looking guy. But she was not with me. I guess I'd like to be whichever guy she's with. She could, however, be crazy, annoying, and frigid.

Usually, I just want to trade places with the guy the woman I find attractive.
Peter Wolf (New York City)
Maybe a cat. Free room and board. Don't have to earn a living. No deadlines. Good at naps. No need to cater to my significant other. Just change the litter often, please.
Nau (Midwest)
The mountain shook from the earthquake of these questions...and out of the rubbly ground scrabbled a mole, squinting in Plato's superabundant light
PA (<br/>)
If you are a Man, head to the MGTOW section on youtube and read those comments. There are so many Gold Digger pranks on youtube than on any other theme. I think having Good health and "Peace of Mind" is better than any other accomplishment or possesion.
DiegoC (DC)
This article reminded me of a short essay by the great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, on "The desire to be someone else." The topic is explored in many of his short stories. I have not been able to find an English version of the essay, unfortunately. I leave the link to the original, Spanish version below, and venture my own translation of the last few sentences.

"All the people absorbed in the hearing of a blissful piece of music, are the same person. All the lovers who embraced each other in the wide world are the same couple: they are Adam and Eve. No one is substantially anyone, but anyone can be any other, at any time."

buelteman (montara CA)
I wouldn't trade my life for any other, though I confess that I have mused about what my life might have become had I not become disabled from a years-long battle with Lyme Disease.
Socrates (Verona NJ)
No .... but I wish Donald Trump was someone else.
fast/furious (the new world)
Paul McCartney. He's experienced a number of tragedies including the death of his mother when he was a teenager, the murder of John Lennon and the loss of his beloved wife Linda when she was 56.

But at 75, McCartney is still touring, can still play and sing like a mother, has a happy devoted family and to all appearances is thoroughly enjoying his very large life. He's made millions of people happy.

I'd love to be him for one day.
fast/furious (the new world)
I forgot to say he's still handsome.

He's still handsome.
Flak Catcher (New Hampshire)
It is not war against another.
It is our silent war against our own paucity of understanding.
Anne-Marie Hislop (Chicago)
Would I be someone else? The simple answer is 'no.' I might occasionally wish for an improved version of myself (more patient or a better singer), but I would not want to be anyone else. How would I know who I was? We are, after all, a complex product of our genes, our relationships, and our life experiences good and bad. If another she took over my life and I took over hers, I would have to become her and she would have to become me. There would still, then, be a me living 'my' life and a she living 'her' life once the switch was complete... Got that?
Petey tonei (Ma)
We are a product of genes as well as complex relationships. As an identical twin, my twin and I were inseparable from birth (actually as premies, the 8 months before we spend together in mommy's womb) till college when we chose different universities. By inseparable I mean we were telepathic, we would finish each orher's thoughts and sentences. Our shared experiences were unspoken. We would respond to each other's names. Most of the time people clumped our names together not bothering to differentiate. Our teachers were the ones who slowly recognized who was the one better in maths and physics, and the other more inclined in biology and chemistry.

We were literally living joint lives, shared experiences, shared thoughts. Nearly 4 decades later, we are different animals now, living on different continents although our kids feel and look more like siblings than cousins. They too have an unspoken bond. They too can telepathically read our minds. It's like we are all sourced into the same pool of consciousness in which we tap in to access, as individuals.

It has experientially helped me understand that all knowledge comes from a single source. That we all have a single underlying source and we each have equal instant and intimate access to it. We just have to be open to being portals for receiving and giving.
Sven Nelson (Madison WI)
I was born with a serious congenital illness. I never knew a time in my life without physical pain and discomfort, numerous surgeries, and daily medications.

I don't want to be anyone rich or famous. But just for one day, I would love to trade places with one healthy person -- any healthy person, really, to experience just for twenty-four hours what so many of you take for granted.
richguy (t)
start by leaving the midwest.
Daniel12 (Wash. D.C.)
Would I want to be anyone other than myself?

Without becoming pretentious, tedious, devolving to self-pity or getting overly involved in questions of identity, and simply answering the question in spirit of parlor game, I would have to say I have not really wanted to be anyone else but rather moments of high spiritedness, inspiration, improvisation, mastery I have seen expressed by a number of different people in the arts, sciences, sports.

For example, hearing a great musician play I easily not only want to become but actually do become that person for a moment. I thrill to brilliant execution in soccer. I admire feats such as Alex Honnold's (rock climbing). I like stories about WW2 fighter pilots. Stories about adventuring in the wilderness. Of course any piece of writing or science (hypothesizing) done well. When I imagine myself someone else it's an ideal self who's always in a state of inspiration, mastery of the moment.

Maybe I've been lucky and instinctively able to separate the high moments of people's lives I've heard of from the rest of their lives; this way I've just concentrated on their high points without wanting to become them but just to learn from them, to try to imitate those high points in life. I'm proud and lucky to have reached a few high points in life, to have approximated some of the inspiration I have seen and heard of more inspired human beings having; I am glad to have some idea of what humans at their best can do in life.
Honor Senior (Cumberland, Md.)
Maybe Warren Buffet, his mind never stops and he has created untold wealth for both himself and many others!
Molly (Haverford, PA)
I wish everyone with his wealth had his ethical sense!
Jenny (Madison, WI)
I've suffered a lot in life. I wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares. Meds and therapy don't help. I would gladly trade all of my relationships to be someone who can sleep through the night. I might actually be able to enjoy life that way.
cherrylog754 (Atlanta, GA)
Married to the same wonderful woman for 53 years, and we’re going to go the distance together, hand in hand. We have three grown sons, all doing well.

I have been to test depth in a nuclear ballistic missile submarine, was on the nuclear refueling team of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and worked on some of the largest and most complex construction projects in the world. Lived and worked in 7 states, traveled to 45 states, been to Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Panama, Chile, Indonesia, South Korea, Europe, Lebanon, Egypt, out of the way places like Newfoundland, crossed the equator on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, served in the Merchant Marine and U.S. Navy, and lots of other stuff. And continue to enjoy the life I live.

We have a great place in the city and a getaway log cabin in the mountains where I’m writing this. I consider myself to be the luckiest man alive!
Nobody You Know (probably) (USA)
@ cherrylog754:

Sounds like a life very well lived.
Okay, scratch wanting to be Jerry Garcia.
I wanna be you.
(Just kidding; you put in the wrench time and earned every bit of it. I didn't.)
joel bergsman (st leonard md)
I'm happy, and consider myself lucky, to have had the life I've had. (I'm 80 at the moment.) But in my next life (!) I want to be an opera singer. And, of course, a great one.

Even though it looks as if the audiences will be really small...
Grace (Orlando)
Huh. A couple days ago my 8 y.o. son asked me this question. He's not one to be brushed off, so I thought, pretty hard, about my answer. The answer, now, at 44, is no one else. I've faced adversity in my life (real stuff; insane stuff), but at core, I'm an optimist and that, maybe naively at times, has always pulled me through. I come from a working class Caribbean background, but man, was I loved! My family loved me and my village loved me and believed in me. I'm easy to get along with and genuinely love people. Every day is a blessing, even when my kids or my spouse or my muse drive me nuts. Nah, think I'm gonna play this me out to the end and see how it goes.
gwinsy (NY)
One way to answer this question is simply to ask the person that you envy whether they are happy with their lives, as you may imagine them to be. I dare say you would get a wide range of answers, and, given the number of unhappy people out there, many of those people one might envy probably feel the same way.

This article reminds me of a story that was related to me years ago, about the great jazz drummer, Elvin Jones. A neophyte visited him back stage during a break in the music and said to him "If I could play the drums like you, man, I would be the happiest person in the world". To which Elvin reportedly replied "I can play the drums like me, and do I look like the happiest person in the world?".
Lauren (Portland, OR)
I'm in my early twenties and couldn't have stumbled upon this article at a better time. Life lately feels like a constant whirlwind of comparison; jobs, relationships, apartments, education, you name it, I want somebody else's. Thanks for the reminder to get out of my own head and appreciate the nuances that make my life my own.
common sense advocate (CT)
The readers' comments mirror the quality of the professor's writing in this piece: excellent!
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
I would do it, if ONLY for one day, then back to normal. I would, of course, trade places with Trump. It would be a grand celebration at the White House. First, I would order my entire staff to release any and all files, memos, recordings pertaining to the Russia investigation, to Mueller.
Everything, under penalty of prosecution. Then, I would have a huuuge party. At the party, I would sign my resignation, effective immediately.
The kids and I would then board Air Force One, for the trip to Russia.
That's MY perfect day, as The Donald. Seriously.
NMS (San Diego)
Can we see your tax returns too?
Phyliss Dalmatian (Wichita, Kansas)
Diogenes (Belmont M)
I would like to be my cat.
Robert Hughes (Chicago, IL)
The thesis here, like the thesis that time travel to the past--surprise!--might not be the treat you think it would be—is too self-evident to be a reading experience for grown-ups.
sbobolia (New York)
I just wanna be me.
James Gulick (Raleigh, North Carolina)
"Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him;
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich - yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace;
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Edward Arlington Robertson
Flak Catcher (New Hampshire)
Abraham Lincoln.
Not craving adulation
but hoping for truth
for understanding
for integrity
to shift the national dialogue
to honesty
to truth
Lincoln went to Heaven
We teeter at the edge of Hell
But can we advance the battle
one step further?
Flak Catcher (New Hampshire)
Sven Nelson.
We are one.
Binx Bolling (Palookaville)
I would never trade places with Abe Lincoln. That guy had very tough life.
Demolino (new Mexico)
Everyone on Facebook, right? They're all posting about their wonderful lives, with the inevitable caption "life is good. "
Richard (NYC)
I want to be Donald Trump so that I can enact single payer, rejoin the Paris Accords, rehire Comey, rescind the Gorsuch nomination; and then resign.
Federico Franco (Mexico City)
To live through the experiences of others gives us a more accurate concept of the human condition, so maybe to live vicariously instead of hermetically should grant us a somewhat real notion of "self".
Adriana Alvarado (Groton, Massachusetts)
I would be myself, 12 years ago. better fit to my life.
Tough Call (USA)
This is well written, and I agree.

But, for the other 99.9% of the world that is unlikely to spend time reading this, is it possible to reduce it to a tweet, please?

Long live Amazon, E!, and glamorous stars.
I've always disagreed at the feigned surprise that a celebrity was a decent human being, if you had the money, fame and power-- why wouldn't you be a nice person?

But I've never wanted to be anyone else.
BT (Massachusetts)
Of course not! This is a superficial exercise generated in America (and published in the NYTimes no less) where we are taught culturally never to be satisfied. It is based on "envy," the tenth word in the first sentence and makes incoherent arguments that abound in our entitled culture to seek more rather than to appreciate the glass being at least half full. We don't know how lucky we are!
Emily (SF)
The social media nowadays put everyone's fabulous "daily life" in front of us, yet who knows how much dark time they have been through as much as we do or anyone living on this planet. If you want their wealth, fame or beauty, you should also be aware how much efforts were putting behind them, may not by themselves, could be their inheritance sometimes.
I used to admire or envy other people's lives when I thought they were easy. Now I have realized everyone has its own difficulties to face, don't be fooled by what's "presented" to you. Put yourself in their shoes and you will know no one has an easy life.
dve commenter (calif)
It is possible to change horses in mid-stream, but a life--no,not really. You would have to erase your life entirely but I don't think that is possible either. My suggestions would be to read Thomas Nagel's What it is like to be a bat. It is a short paper, easily available on the web and would save you fraom having to contemplate this idea ever again."
here's a start....
"Consciousness is what makes the mind-body problem really intractable. Perhaps that is why current discussions of the problem give it little attention or get it obviously wrong. The recent wave of reductionist euphoria has produced several analyses of mental phenomena and mental concepts designed
to explain the possibility of some variety of materialism, psychophysical identification, or reduction.1 But the problems dealt with are those common to this type of reduction and other types, and what makes the mind-body problem unique, and unlike the water-H20 problem or the Turing machine-IBM machine problem or the lightning-electrical discharge problem or the gene-DNA problem or the oak tree-hydrocarbon problem, is ignored.
Don Salmon (Asheville, NC)
DVE commenter - great passage, but Nagel does not go far enough. In fact, the water-H20 problem, and all the others mentioned, are as deeply problematic from a materialistic perspective as the mind-body dualism.

When non-scientists question the equivalence of water and h20, they are speaking of water as a phenomenon, an experience of liquidity, whereas scientists referring to H20 - assuming they are not just technicians with no curiosity or capacity to think whatsoever (which is mostly the case) are simply referring to a purely quantitive, abstract formula which has almost no relation to the real world.

Arthur Eddington long ago lamented the inability of physicists to recognize this. He spoke of the typical physics student given a problem of say, two elephants sliding down a hill. Any good student, he knows, should erase the real elephant and replace it with pure quantities.

If you look closely at the mindset of right wing authoritarian libertarians, materialists, and fundamentalists of any persuasion - in short, at the major disorder of the modern era, you'll find a similar mindset.

Iain McGilchrist, in his "Master and His Emissary," has traced the development of this mindset over the past 2000 years.

All of the confusions about what it means to "be someone else" - i the article and at least some of these moments - are illustrated in McGilchrist's book.

The ultimate question is, "Who - or What - am I?"

Gnirol (Tokyo, Japan)
Yes, I don't get this at all. If I become George Clooney, and he becomes me, firstly, there is no difference in the world. One George Clooney, one me, exactly the same as the old George Clooney and me. George Clooney wouldn't be George Clooney in my body, my surroundings, he'd be me in my body and my surroundings, and vice versa. I wouldn't even know I had been someone else before. I couldn't say, "Wow! Now I'm George Clooney!" for if I could say that, I wouldn't be George Clooney. Would I like to have George Clooney's money without having done all the work he has done to get it? Sure. Would I like to know some of his friends and hang out with some of the most creative people in the world? Sure. But that is only fun if I can still be me underneath the façade and view my new existence from my own viewpoint. That would be impossible if I were no longer me.
genegnome (Port Townsend)
If I could be my father at a young age, grow up to have me as a son, who years later became his father at a young age and grew up to have a son, who ...

Please, sir. Let me out now.
billy pullen (Memphis, Tn)
That's a good story plot for a Disney film.
FRB (Eastern Shore, VA)
Are you talking about being that person inside and or out? Would I look like Brad Pitt and be a movie star, but still be "me" inside? If I'm Brad in and out, then there is no me to worry about losing. Of course if I'm just Brad outside, then I'm not really Brad; I'm me with Brad's outward appearance and lifestyle; kind of like a Halloween costume. And when do I become Brad? Now, at his age? From birth (and does that sort of make me Benjamin Button)? And if I'm Brad from birth am I a captive of his life choices or can I make my own? And is there a me to make them? And does Brad become me? Or can we arrange a three way swap so I become Brad, he becomes Einstein and poor Albert ends up with me? Maybe I should become Fagin in "Oliver" so I can sing "I think I'd better think it out again." Or maybe I'd better stay put.
Michael Bechler (Palo Alto CA)
I remember a movie where Elvis went to impersonator contests and found someone to replace him. Elvis went on to an anonymous life and the impersonator burned out on drugs and died in Vegas.
Don Salmon (Asheville, NC)
(see "The Way of the White Clouds")

In the early 1930s, Lama Govinda met an 8 year old Burmese boy. At age 4, his father had taken him and his older brother to a fair. A man offered them candy. The older boy eagerly reached for it, but the 4 year old said they should offer a prayer. He then asked his father to hoist him on the father's shoulders and proceeded to give a sermon on the virtues of giving equal to that of any masterful speaker.

He asked to be taken to his monastery, where he (a) led everyone on a tour of the facility, describing rooms before he entered; (b) read books written in Pali (the boy's family was completely illiterate); (c) picked out specific items he said belonged to him when he had been abbot of the monastery; and (d) took the current abbot out on a boat on the lake and told the abbott his name prior to having entered the monastery (many years before).

When we are able to sit centered in pure awareness, effortlessly disidentifying with any passing thought for at least 4 hours, such memories may arise in our minds.

We all have been many others many times, but in a "time" and "space" utterly different than any of our most advanced physicists currently imagine.

Richard Feynman said, "We have no idea what energy is," and other equally brilliant scientists have said the same of "matter," "time," "space," etc.

With enough humility, this can be known.

Nobody You Know (probably) (USA)
@ Don Salmon, Asheville, NC “We have all been many others many times, but in a ‘time’ and ‘space’ utterly different than any of our most advanced physicists currently imagine.”

Yes, and despite the utter lack of any verifiable documentation for, or replicability of, such phenomena as you relate here, I’m completely without doubt as to their veracity.
It must all be quite true; I read it on the internet.
dmbones (Portland, Oregon)
The admonition to "know thyself" is the doorway to compassion for others, not the ravaging beast of jealousy to be another.
manfred marcus (Bolivia)
If we know whom we do not want to be, or further our 'schadenfreude' if something goes wrong with, say, an arrogant beast pretending to be "Mother Teresa", even if borderline with envy, why couldn't we aspire to be 'like' our mentor(s), without the baggage? The impossibility of being somebody else is, of course, obvious, even if we could transplant your brain into his body; but wanting to go back to the past, say, 20 years, to undo your marriage and see what could have happened with that other girl (or boy), if only..., is as stupid an idea as hoping Trump could change into a gentleman, an avid reader, and full of feelings towards others. In all seriousness though, we do change constantly, depending on circumstances and even the person we are with. Now, if we could just add some wealth and sex appeal, and the notoriety that goes with it, we wouldn't want to be anybody else...even if begged to try.
Mark (Columbia, Maryland)
I would trade places with Donald Trump. As president, I would act normal and take the advice of people who know what they are doing. I would not sign the Republican health care bill or anything else that is stupid and mean. I would spend a lot more time with Melania.
Jay (David)
Dear Mr. May,

First, it's a stupid question because you can't be someone else (unless you are planning to invest a lot of time and risk to steal someone else's identity in which case you don't want anyone else to know you did this).

But to answer the question, no, I don't want to be anyone else. I have been very fortunate and have had a decent life. I wouldn't want to be someone else because I am a fine human being in almost every sense, nor am I greedy to have more than the simple but decent life I have had.
scott_thomas (Indiana)
I'm reminded of the character of Jackie Rhoades (played by Joe Mantell) in the old Twilight Zone episode "Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room," when he looks at his reflection in the mirror and whispers "I wish that I could trade you in. I could use another model."
richard frauenglass (new york)
Yes there are times.
Everyone is someone elses' idiot.
Money can not buy happiness but it generally buys the kind of misery one wants.
At this moment, there is but one thing. Command of NCC-1701. Yes Enterprise. Hopeful fiction, but that seems to be the only way we can instill some sense into the leaders of what is becoming an ever increasing dysfunctional world. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one" But would I give up all for that, the prospect of no return? The thought does boggle the mind.
PAC (Malvern, PA)
We don't want to BE George Clooney, Michelle Obama or Usain Bolt, we just want his stylish good looks, her confident grace and his athletic physique while we, and our warmly attractive wives, drive our Mercedes to our rewarding and high-paying jobs while telling humorous stories filled with irony.
Cletus Butzin (Buzzard River Gorge, Brooklyn.)
Al Swearengen, but forgoing the bladder stones experience.
SR (Bronx, NY)
Had I lacked a conscience and a programming goal, I'd wear any big bank CEO's shoes.

No legal consequences whether I shoot somebody on 5th Avenue or foreclose everybody on Main Street—and if the shareholders or Board ever *do* Et Tu me (for not scamming *enough*), I can just Spend More Time With My Family and take up golden parachuting!
Miss Ley (New York)
'If I had known what I know now, there are certain things that I would have done differently' from a young woman behind a cashier counter who looked 24 with three children at home. I was amazed when she told me that she was 34, and this is happening more frequently as I age. Everyone looks so young. What about you, she asked, drawing a blank on my part.

If you are in good health, and the years go by, without any physical discomfort, you may be surprised to hear when leaving a store, a saleswoman tell another 'she was a lovely old lady' and boom, you realize that you have reached the golden years. It makes you smile rather than weep.

Looking at those who have more money and live in luxury, or over your shoulder at some in dire need, 'Do not compare your life to any other' is my motto because somebody is always going to be richer, have it better, or be left behind with a bag of rags with little hope for better times.

When younger, I mused that I would choose the mind of Iris Murdoch and the appearance of Julie Christie. But now, I know better that there is only one of me, and one life-showing is enough. There are days where this existence seems endless, and I wonder why I have to be 'here', taking up precious space for somebody else.

So much left to learn, but if I die in my sleep that would be just fine too. What a life! Going out into the garden and sprinkling some magic on the premises.
Joseph Barnett (Sacramento)
I wish I was myself tomorrow, but I am going to need a day to get ready.
Caroline st Rosch (Vienna)
I don't wish that i were someone else but I do often wish I were a 'better' version of myself. Simply said, when I have trouble falling asleep I wonder if I had a do-over what I would do instead of... wasting time in the past instead of the present? maybe. But it teaches me lessons for the future.
Elizabeth (New York City)
I can imagine wishing that I had the massive wealth or zen attitude of some person or another, but to 'be' him or her? I can't imagine. Wherever you go, there you are, after all.
Alan Chaprack (The Fabulous Upper West Side)
Definitely Keith Richards. I'm jealous that I'll not be around to comment on the result of the 2076 presidential election.
Dedalus (Toronto, ON)
The premise of this thought exercise is incoherent: it makes no sense to suppose that you are someone other than yourself. Of course, it makes sense to wonder what it would be like if certain of your attributes were different: if, e.g., you had been born and raised in a different country than the one in which you were born and raised, you had different physical attributes, a different job, married a different person, and such like. But that is to imagine that YOU are different in some non-essential respect, not that YOU are not YOU.
SaveTheArctic (New England Countryside)
No, I never wanted to be anyone else. I like me. But, if I could choose someone to hang around with and be friends with, it would be the late George Harrison. It would also be cool to meet Elon Musk.

I'm just glad I'm not a member of the Trump family.
Mulholland Drive (NYC + LA)
Bill Murray.
Nikki (Islandia)
Yes. I'd like to be one of the Koch Brothers, so I could work to undo the damage they've done, with inside info and piles of cash. I'd be older and a man, but I could deal with that in exchange for the opportunity to do so much good.
SaveTheArctic (New England Countryside)
You must be a wonderful person, Nikki! I can imagine a sci fi story along those lines, sort of a Robin Hood for the Planet.
publius (new hampshire)
This exercise in self-manufactured trivia and naval gazing reminds my why I did not major in philosophy.
dve commenter (calif)
sorry, but that would be navEl gazing, and yes, they do have a phil [sic] for every illness nowadays. nI suspect ONLY admirals naval gaze.
publius (new hampshire)
Point well taken. Spelling, apparently, was also not high on my agenda.
Mooderator (ATL)
Are you kidding? I was a bullied child who grew up to work in a call center. I spent the last 24 hrs. wondering if I could apply my paid time-off to going on suicide watch and praying that any available god out there would take me out of the game if relief is not an option. There are certainly thousands, if not millions, of people I'd rather be.
Selene (New Zeealand)
I am really sorry to hear that mooderator. I sincerely hope your life improves very soon. Peace to you.
Miss Ley (New York)
Moodedrator, Joining Selene in saying 'Hang in there'. Read an article in the NYT today where in Venezuela nearly 90 percent of the population is unable to afford to buy food. Wishing you a feeling of relief soonest and maybe it will make you smile to read what Ambrose Bierce, an American journalist, had to say:

'Birth, the first and direst of all disasters';
'Alone: in bad company';
'Egoist: a person of low taste, more interested in himself than me';
'Year: a period of 365 disappointments'.
Ellen (Missouri)
I too am with Selene. Hang in there.
Number23 (New York)
Way too many qualifications and complexities for me to wade through. I'm guessing that a philosopher wasn't involved in the Freaky Friday screenplay. But I can sum up my negative response to the essay's chief question in two words: Richard Cory.
willw (CT)
Name (Here)
Next, what is your favorite color?
Wake me when you get around to asking what my favorite invisible animal is.
Jacqueline Tellalian (New York City)
As a paraplegic confined to a wheelchair from birth almost 64 years ago, this is something I have indeed pondered from time-to-time. While I have never been envious of famous people or people with absurd wealth (I have known both and
believe me, they have their own share of troubles I wouldn't want)), but I HAVE wondered what life would be like unencumbered by my dead legs and my severely curved spine that was never repaired by surgery. A life free from broken wheelchairs, perfect rotator cuffs and a straight back sure was a tempting thought when I was younger, but now that I see friends my age - even the gym-rats who've been going to pump iron religiously for 30 years - start to exhibit symptoms that come with a well-worn body, I'm pretty content to cruise the streets of NYC in my motorized chair and realize I'm doing okay.

My brain still works and so far, physically I don't have anything fatal hanging over my head, so I'm thankful for what I have and don't bother cluttering up my short time on Earth wishing I were George Clooney's wife or even Bob Dylan. I am who, what and where I'm supposed to be at this moment in time. But just to be safe, if I hit the lottery, I'll let you know!!
susan (NYc)
Jane Goodall......I love animals!!!
rosa (ca)
At 70 I can moan, "Oh, for a young, healthy, athletic body!" .... but you know, I had that once. In fact I had everything once: looks, i.q., great friends.... and one of the ugliest lives around. So, I have only one question: Do I get to take this astonishing brain with me if I leap BACK into the same body I once had? That's the only deal I'd cut: THIS brain and THAT body and do I get to pick the timeframe or do I get dumped in the 1400's, Germany, and there's a witch hunt going down? Ditto for the future: Don't want to get dumped in one of THOSE witch hunts either!
Ah, how interesting to find that THIS is the "best of all possible worlds"!
.... must go tend my garden....
Jorge (San Diego)
I would like to be Donald Trump-- or really just inhabit his body-- so that I could experience a spiritual revelation, be a force for good in the world (i.e., do exactly the opposite of everything he's doing now), and actually gain the love and respect that he craves but will never get. Then the world would win.
Adan Schwartz (San Francisco)
The article describes a feeling most everyone can relate to, of at least occasionally wanting to be a specific someone else. I sometimes feel it, and it's hard not to register that feeling as some kind of deficiency in my character.

But if this desire is universal, then it follows that becoming someone else also brings with it the desires to be yet another someone else, i.e., the person that the person you've become wants to become. In other words, you could never escape the feeling of wanting to be someone else.

I tend to think that Donald Trump (yes, there is no escaping him) probably does not want to be someone else. He is the apotheosis of self-satisfaction. And yet he is also the person I would least want to be.

So this line of thinking leaves me to conclude that I should just happily co-exist with the feeling of wanting to be someone other.
Cheryl (Yorktown)
I'd wish, more, that I could have the gift to see with others' eyes, or sing with their voice, or even have the depth of understanding or creativity of their minds -- and carry that awareness (maybe. Perhaps it would be disturbing to return to normal). But literally becoming someone else means that the old you is 'gone" and there's no way to appreciate the shift.
lindalou (RI)
I've sometimes thought about this provocative question but ultimately decided I'm probably who and where I'm supposed to be. Lately though, I find myself wondering what I would see from behind my spouse's eyes. What could I learn about him and his view of the world. Equally instructive, what would I see when I looked at me through his eyes? That has to give one pause... .
em em seven (Peoria)
When I was a boy, I wanted to be Jack Kennedy or Mickey Mantle. In retrospect, I'm very glad neither of those wishes was fulfilled.You may covet another person's life, but you're not just trading for their experiences, you're trading for their fate.

Now, if I could go back in time, and know a person's entire life before I chose, well ...
NewsReaper (Colorado)
Reuben Ryder (New York)
To the first poster. Thanks! This is a rather sad photo preceding the story. Hard to get past, such lost lives, but I trucked on to the story, asking myself if I missed something somewhere along the way, and if this was really a something to even think about. I mean, we don't get a do over, do we? The bottom line is that if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't do it. Pleasure/Pain not equal. More Pain than Pleasure, and the Pleasure wasn't really all that great.
karen (bay area)
I struggled with infertility for many, many years. It affected my happiness, my marriage, my health. But I (and the marriage) survived. No sooner did we resign ourselves to this unplanned fate (though never with acceptance) than we heard of a baby to be born whose birth mom was looking for parents to adopt this baby. 21 years later, I can still recall the pain of infertility and ponder the lack of fairness that gives a baby to some ding-dong teenager instead of me. And yet, had I had a baby in the normal course of life and plans, I would never have had THIS baby, who was so deeply meant to be ours. To me, that is the trouble with wishing for something other than what came your way.
Caroline st Rosch (Vienna)
AJWoods (New Jersey)
What we have to be concerned about is not whether we might want to be someone else but rather if we are someone else -- someone other than our authentic selves; other than we were meant to be.

I am reminded of the play 'Wonderful Tennessee' when the middle-aged characters all realized that they had not been their authentic selves. They all had, in avoiding an unique challenge life had presented each of them with, lead instead superficial lives.

At the final reckoning this may be what will haunt us, that we were someone else, not who we were uniquely meant to be.
Cod (MA)
I wouldn't mind being Tom Brady, probably one of the most envied of men in America, by men. But honestly I'd rather be a great scientist who discovers or cures and helps humanity or the earth somehow significantly. A Jonas Salk or maybe some other less unsung, scientist. The men and women who dedicate their lives to bettering science and the planet are my true heroes.
Daibhidh (Chicago)
Watch the John Frankenheimer movie, "Seconds" (1966) -- a disturbing exploration of that topic, and an unforgettable one!
Matt Olson (San Francisco)
Well, I've always known that much of who I am places me outside the "norm".
If I were a poll, I guess I would be an outlier. And a big one, too.
Mr. May doesn't really even make a pretense of abandoning his self. There isn't much to mull over for him. He's sticking with Todd May, and that seems to be that.
I'm far less satisfied with much of my life, and who I am.
"Here is where my own values and desires, the ones I have developed over the course of my life, really begin to show their force". At least when it comes to values, there is no contest between Nelson Mandela and me. In the looks department, Brad Pitt has nothing to worry about in facing a challenge from me.
Actually, I've started counting on my fingers, and moved on to my toes, and there are still many more names that will make it onto the roster.
I guess it's back to the therapist's couch for me.
Samuel Janovici (Mill Valley, California)
Thank you for opening Pandora's second box - empathy. Mine has been so abused that I need to be an avenger of sorts. Given my way, I'd want to be Donald Trump. Yup. Imagine being able to commandeer him and takeover for a day? Childish? Yes, but our need for justice does not come from our fact driven selves, but from the hardwired part that is more animalistic than we like to believe. It is through empathy and character transference that we can better explain our jumbled instincts and our most maligned intuition.
Mary Ann (<br/>)
I would be me without chronic health issues that will probably never be resolved.
Marty (Long Island)
For the first time in my life, I imagine not being SOMEONE else, but ANYWHERE ELSE AT ANY OTHER TIME IN HISTORY
Bello (western Mass)
Sure, it would be fun...but here are the rules...I would still be me inside but assume the life of the other person. I might choose to be Donald Trump, only totally liberal. Imagine the NYT headlines when I reverse my position on ObamaCare and raise the minimum wage to 20/hr!
Frank (Brooklyn)
when I was a boy, every summer night, there was this group of four people, relatively young,
two married couples sitting on their "stoop."
one of the young wives was so obsessed with the
others husband that she literally paid no attention to her own husband at all.
if her friend's husband went for ices ,she followed him,if he walked to the corner,to speak
to someone, she did likewise.
the entire block,men,women and even we young
people, followed this obsession with as much
subtlety as we could muster.
this young woman's husband simply sat there,
feckless and bewildered, while the other wife
seemed confidently amused.
I have never, ever seen more of an example of
one person wishing she could have been someone
else(ie.that man's wife.)
what seemed amusing to me then,seems fifty years later, an lesson in learning to be oneself,
or at least keeping that impulse under control.
Paul (Shelton, WA)
Not even for a moment. Nobody knows the fears, aches, pains, heartaches, health problems, etc., that someone else is carrying in their lives. Facade is illusion. The bigger the facade, the deeper the illusion. So, be kind to all you meet, you have no idea what burdens they are bearing.

Now, are there things I'd like to change about my life decisions. Sure. Everyone has those because it's part of life and learning. But, getting to know ourselves is enough of a journey and task. No need to take on any more.

"If I try to be like him, who will be like me?" Yiddish Proverb.
CK (Christchurch NZ)
No I wouldn't because then it wouldn't be my life. What if... doesn't figure in my life as I like to stay grounded in reality. I wouldn't mind more money so I could decide how I spend it - but I wouldn't want their life. lol!
SarahC (Pleasanton, CA)
I choose to be someone else, to live their lives and assume all their values, motivations, relationships, heartache and joy each and every time I pick up a book. Reading lets me live a thousand different lives--without ever having to trade the one I have now.
Miss Ley (New York)
A beautiful woman in her early 30s begins her day, walking into the hair salon and the receptionist cannot remember her name, which vexes her. But then she realizes that she cannot remember it either and panics. She gives a name after a pause, only to realize that it was her first husband's. All to say, SarahC, you might find the novel 'I am Mary Dunne' by Brian Moore of interest.
David (California)
I prefer thinking about who I was in my former lives. Like most people my former lives were always those of great people. There is no doubt that I was Alexander the Great before becoming Augustus and then Galileo.
How was your golf game back in 330 B.C.?
Sdh (Here)
You have no idea how hard I'm laughing. Thank you.
nativetex (Houston, TX)
Not for a whole lifetime, no. I like my life and who I am. However, if I could be someone else for 15 seconds only, it would be Flo-Jo -- during the 10.49 seconds that it took her to run the race and the following 4.51 seconds to revel in success. Next, it would be Van Cliburn to play the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto Number 1 in Moscow so gloriously and to represent the USA in the best way for all the right reasons. But except for short flashes of pleasure like those, please let me keep my privacy.
DesertRose (Phoenix, Arizona)
We don't know the entire story of others. Best to be oneself.
Petey tonei (Ma)
One thing I know for sure, anything that happens to me, is happening to at least 10 other people. Same thought, same life experience. We are foolish to think we are unique because the truth is, among all the possibilities, there are at least 7.5 billion other human beings we share the planet with. Each of us is assembled together, newly, at each moment, as atoms electrons bacteria yeast viruses interact -- assemble, dismantle, assemble, dismantle, in a symphony, creating an individual, a person. The entire universe colludes in this symphony, it is not the act of one single atom or bacteria, it is everything, simultaneously arising to create YOU. From "nothing". Star dust is formed from nothing, it appears from nothing and melts into nothing. From beginning-less times to endless times.
Ellen (Missouri)
I have a vivid memory of boarding a plane with my husband. We were newlyweds and still asking those "gee-whiz" questions of one another. The question was if you had to be someone else, or could be someone else, whom would you choose? An avid runner, I didn't hesitate to say Florence Griffith Joyner.

A woman a couple rows ahead of me turned and gave me a sort of half-smile. I soon figured out why--the athlete's death had just been announced and I hadn't heard.

I'll take my 11-minute mile--I have lived to see 50 and she didn't even get 40 years here.
EVRS (Beverly Hills, CA)
No. I like me and I raise my daughter to like herself. No one has it easy. We all suffer in our own place.
bmck (Montreal)
The several people lives I envied died very young - so, I'm very happy to be here, and me.
Miss Ley (New York)
'Only The Good Die Young'.
Jennie (WA)
Heh, my high school English teacher asked this question, and even back then I knew I only wanted to be me. Life's had it's difficulties, but I still wouldn't be someone else. Now, if I could be me and have a billion dollars, that I'd take.
genegnome (Port Townsend)
Are we who we think we are or are we who others think we are or are we who we think others want us to be?

So many people are not anybody because they're tied up keeping an eye on everyone else, hoping not to miss something important, not realizing until too late they missed out on life entirely.

Be yourself. Let others be themselves. Celebrate love. Celebrate difference. Celebrate life. Do the best YOU can. Leave the world around you a better place.

Or maybe Mick Jagger.
MB (Brooklin Maine)
If I were someone else, I wouldn't be.
martar (mill valley ca)
That comment's better than the whole article.
Michael Bechler (Palo Alto CA)
First, I'd never want to be a celebrity. I value my privacy and my ability to go places and do things without the recognition. That's why I try to never bother celebrities when I stumble on them occasionally.

Second, there are some things that others have that I would like to have: Chris Thiele's or Tony Rice's manual dexterity and fluidity on acoustic instruments. Paul Simon's ability to write amazing lyrics. My ex-buddy's famous good looks. I wish the profession I was in paid as much as some others that are no more difficult. I wouldn't want the whole package from those people, but some bits and pieces might prove interesting.
Abigail Maxwell (Northamptonshire)
Perhaps it is better that I do not swap. If I were to swap with Hilary Mantel, the world would be greatly disappointed in her next book about Thomas Cromwell. Naomi Klein has a fantastic life, but the world needs her doing her job. Donald Trump, though-it would be horrible to be him, but I would be an improvement, though the Evangelicals and the "Second Amendment people" would be surprised and displeased with what I would do.
ms (ca)
No one really knows the circumstances of others' lives so NO, I would not trade my life, with its ups and downs, for someone's else's. As a healthcare professionals, I have been privileged to hear about the intimate details of my patients' lives. Many people with seemingly perfect lives have struggles with health issues, family relationships, past histories of trauma, etc. The Times just published a story yesterday from a woman who was unaware of her high-powered Silicon Valley lawyer-husband's drug addiction until she found him dead of an overdose. So, to me, when people start to think like this, they've really haven't thought through the implications.
Observer (The Alleghenies)
At 63, I have slept in roadside ditches, been in prison, worked as a laborer and cook, played music for a crowd of 12,000, earned a science PhD, been divorced, spent 10 years as an expat, no kids, a handful of lifelong friends. All along I've been privileged to meet many people who I've admired for various qualities, far better than I on every count. But I've never met anyone I'd rather be, and I promise you nobody would want to have lived the details of this life. Now I'm wondering what to jump into next.
Anthony N (NY)
To Observer,

Next? How about a memoir/screenplay of your life ... so far.
Charlotte K (Mass.)
The way that I do this is by reading great literature. I can just as easily be Kitty Scherbatsky at her first ball or a hobbit in a hole in the ground or a Jane Austen heroine walking the line between self-interest and virtue, A disappointed Rabbit in Updike OR Watership Down. We have a vast array of other experience at our disposal on the shelves of the local library. I believe that immersion in fiction makes us better human begins, more compassionate and aware of the lives of others.
Petey tonei (Ma)
You really don't need fiction. Just look around you, travel far and wide, see how other human beings live, struggle and still find happiness, in the midst of chaos, filth and despair. Its not that human beings are resilient, that helps, but life itself is most resilient. It just --- wants to be. It appears as anything and everything, one down, another one springs up. Its as though life never gets bored of its vagaries, whimsies and unexpected forms it appears. Then it watches itself and marvels at how beautiful it is, even in the saddest human face, life happens, and it simply says, this is what sadness looks like. Surrounded by that sad human face, are invisible life forms, countless of them -- bacteria, yeast, viruses, microscopic life forms, just doing their jobs -- unbeknownst to the sad dude, who inhales these lively creatures in his in breath, exhales in his out breath, countless reside in his gut. Merrily partying away. By looking at life as a limited individual, we fail to see how marvelous and magnificent it truly is.
Charlotte K (Mass.)
Yes, that too. But I'll never give up fiction!
Anthony N (NY)
I'm sure everyone at some point fantasizes about being someone else - someone famous, someone talented, someone who won a Noble Prize.

But, I wonder, how many among the rich, famous, powerful etc., would trade places "downward", particularly those whose life and lifestyyle were "inherited".

When I was a child, Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper" was one of my favorite books. After living as a pauper Edward VII sets out to right the societal wrongs he saw and experienced, and Tom, after living a prince's life, willing gives up becoming king. Alas, fiction.
lalit (new jersey)
A theory about such wishful thinking. Pick a person you wish to be: then ask God to replace your life and everything in life with that person. I mean everything -- wealth, looks, memories, experiences and absolutely everything else you can think of. Even your own consciousness. But as soon as your consciousness is replaced, then how would you know that exchange hasn't happened already at this very moment!!!
Just remember two things, "the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side of the street" and, "things you imagine are never as they appear."

Keep a good attitude about where and who you are.
Pinesiskin (Cleveland, Ohio)
I agree, as our genetic material alone may assist us in handling our own experiences. And what about our collective unconscious?
John Smith (Cherry Hill NJ)
OFTEN, When younger, I wished to be someone else, as I felt intimidated by the talents and achievements of others. My wishes changed after I began to attend my high school reunions. I admired the other guys in the class for their prestigious achievements. But I found that after 25 years, nobody cared what you had done with your life, except to show interest and admiration. We were just glad to be together again. As I continued to attend the reunions, more frequently now because the class holds reunion dinners several times each year, I still admire others. But I realize that I've had the chance to travel, follow my creative pursuits and lead a productive life, that I would not change for anyone else's. While I admire the achievements of the other guys, I have had broader and more varied experiences, professionally and personally, than the others. Since high school, I was always passionately interested in several areas of study. The areas of study I pursue now at nearly 70 are for more extensive and varied. So appreciate my life more than when I was young. For many reasons. Not the least of which is that I was the eldest of 4 siblings--three brothers and one sister. My two youngest siblings, my beloved sister and brother, died before me. She at 39 from cancer and he at 60 in his sleep from a heart attack. There is longevity in my family. I'm saddened that they will not be able to enjoy it along with me. But I honor their memories by loving life.
anae (NY)
I'd trade. I like myself fine. Unfortuantely my life has been one letdown after another. I'd like to trade. I'd like to experience some of the good things life has to offer.
Hamid Varzi (Tehran, Iran)
Great to see The King in the photo! I also fantasized about being Elvis, but I would have had to die 25 years ago (I'm 67 and he died at 42) in a state of loneliness and desperation. The trade-off clearly wouldn't have been worth it, so I just limit the hero worship to his voice and enjoy the infinitely greater gifts of a great family and friends.

I had a female relative with whom I argued regularly about this very point, until my point was dramatically proven: She always moaned about her middle class existence and kept mentioning the German-French actress Romy Schneider as proof that life wasn't fair. After all, at her peak Romy Schneider was universally adored, had a beautiful son and was romantically involved with the French star Alain Delon. Well, her son died at 14 after being impaled on a fence, Alain Delon broke up with her and she died at age 44 from a broken heart.

People should learn to live and improve their own lives.
tj (albany, ny)
Maybe not wishing to have been someone else but having had less difficulty as me.
David Gregory (Deep Red South)
I would not like to live anyone else's life but have entertained the thought of what it would have been like to be me in a different generation.
jamie baldwin (Redding, Conn.)
Aretha Franklin.
Llewis (N Cal)
Wouldn't want to be anyone else. I know how to handle my problems now that I'm ancient. What I would like is a thirty year old body so I could scamper around in my retirement years. And the winning lottery numbers. Since neither of this two events are likely I will just enjoy what I have.
Daniel12 (Wash. D.C.)
Would I want to be anyone or anything other than myself?

I am not sure I am even myself. I do not ever recall being much valued for being myself but rather expected to be someone or something else. I have never known anything other than a feeling of going against the grain, so at this point, after all the friction, I have no idea if I am anything like I originally was or what or who I am now. But perhaps people and/or things, "life", expected me to become myself and I was just too weak. Who knows.

But still, I have never had much feeling anyone or anything wants me to be myself. Therefore it seems ridiculous to want to be anyone or anything else in the world which apparently has never had the power or the will to treat me in any way other than that in which I have been treated. I am not sure what I am, I can only say with approximation what I want to be: Someone or something which makes people and animals and things as closely as possible what they want to become and if not being able to do so admitting I am not a maker of people, things, animals, worlds.

It seems strange to be asked if you would like to be someone or something else in a world which essentially has left you with nothing, which asks would it not have been better if you were not born. It was as if I was born expected to function in some fashion and then it was discovered I have a mind. Now the world seems to function to just control my mind. So I am a dream of a different world. Or just a broken mind.
TFD (Brooklyn)
Switch identities? No way. I love my life.

BUT, I would like to be Madonna or Beyonce during a performance. Or Barack Obama in the Situation Room on the day OBL was killed (or when he gave his victory speech in Grant Park). Or the Seals who did it. I'd like to be Hillary the night she won the nomination and the night she "lost" the election. I'd like to be Oprah at her going away gala. I'd like to be my parents on the day I was born. I'd like to be my sister every time she stood up for me in front of bullies when we were kids. I'd like to be a starving child or its mother in Ethiopia.

I'd like to experience the full range of human experience in the skin of the most interesting among us or those with realities radically different than mine. Then go back into my own body with the memories.
Pinesiskin (Cleveland, Ohio)
Wow, I'm blown away by the breadth of your desires. As a lifelong chameleon, I often experience others while reading about them. Gratefully, though, as soon as I am finished reading, I come right back to myself.
magicisnotreal (earth)
Never not even once not even at the height of the torture I endured as a child. I have only ever wanted to the me I was born to be not the me my adults and abusers wanted me to be.
Ed (Old Field, NY)
It’s particularly an affliction of the young, when one doesn’t know exactly what his life is but knows—or thinks he knows—what other people’s lives are. Then you find the grass is greener when you learn that people, whose lives you wished you had, wish they had your life, but a life is a package deal—you get the good AND the bad.
There’s nothing like friendship.
tldr (Whoville)
Wealth, fame, recognition, this is all a bogus, insecure myth fed us by the marketing machine.

Wealth doesn't satisfy, recognition stinks, people who need ego affirmations of others somewhat diseased, fame is a curse.

This definition of what we are supposed to aspire to is entirely an invention of our era, market-manufactured celebrity, manufactured demand, sour grapes & envy, greed, waste, consumption, false notions of striated society based in acquisition, image etc.

These are the values that made postwar American society so vile.

No I'm not interested in trading places with some other flawed human, I'm familiar enough with the vast deficits and pitfalls of humanity's hideous internal landscape, irreconcilable social structures, absurd addictive desires & beliefs, & I've known enough of success & successful people in the American definition to know the American idea of success is empty.

People might aspire to some very old-school attributes, like humility, patience, compassion, so out of style in the USA, so lost forever in our obsessions with the ultimately unsatisfying myths of fame & fortune.

That said, there are attributes I'd take in a heartbeat:
Tangible superpowers like an encyclopedic memory, perfect pitch, a prehensile tail, ability to leap & see in the dark like a cat, smell the world in 3-d like a Basset Hound.

I'd change places with a lemur, but being some other hideously flawed, ego-saturated conflicted, jealous human, not so much. Rather be a tree.
Jackie (Missouri)
Trees are nice. We used to live in a house with an ash tree. She was very old, nice and wise. She was home to birds and squirrels, and she had a big unblinking yet kindly "eye" where one of her branches had been. And then our evil landlady decided to chop her down. So maybe you shouldn't want to be a tree because you never know when one of those hideously flawed, ego-saturated, conflicted, jealous human beings are going to come around. Humans- the best and worst idea that God ever had.
Frank (Brooklyn)
so fame ,wealth and recognition are a curse?
fate,feel free to curse me anytime.
Ian MacFarlane (Philadelphia PA)
Not an immediate response, but this now strikes me as a paean to the futility of growth which in itself is change.
Dave (NY)
Something else interesting to think about is if it would even be right for you to trade places. Let's imagine that you had the opportunity to trade places with someone who you are certain has a better life than you, and you will definitely be happier if you traded places. Putting aside the question of what it would really mean for you to become them, it seems like it would be immoral for you to become them, as you are in some sense stealing their better life.
SteveRR (CA)
Asking someone if they want be someone else is a variant of the ever annoying trolley problem - it is cocktail hour banter about something that is impossible -
from an ontological and epistemological stance - and to be frank - a bit useless to expend precious mental horsepower on.
I bow to that wise and intemperate philosopher who - went confronted with one of Prof Foote's ever expanding memes replied: "I don't do trolley problems"
Diogenes (Belmont M)
It would have been better never to have been born. But only one in ten thousand has that luck
Donald Seekins (Waipahu HI)
Playing at being someone, or something, else than oneself seems to be a universal thing, as seen by the many masked dramas and dances that are found throughout the world. Amateur or professional, the performer for a short time pretends he/she is someone else.

I would argue that the very impossibility of really being someone else than oneself is a major reason why such performances are universal; we want to free ourselves from the ironclad fact, a fundamental existential limitation like aging or death, that in the real world we can only live one life - our own.
Peter Wolf (New York City)
If I would "be" someone else, it means that "I" would no longer exist. There would just be another person who is not me. There are already over 6 billion of such persons. The only logical question is "to be or not to be?"

Sure, I'd like to have so and so's work habits, or x's talent, or money, or tennis serve, or maybe even someone's husband or wife. But in order for "me" to have those things, the "I" that I am would have to exist. At least my consciousness would have to continue into this new person. Without that, the question becomes nonsensical.
Bill Helsabeck (Florida)
Of course it's nonsensical. It's a simple day-dream question. Boy, so many of these responses go to ridiculous lengths trying to rationalize a simple irrational concept.
Stephen Hoffman (Harlem)
There is only one life, refracted through a prism into many individuals. I can’t trade it for anything else, even if I wish it were not raining today or that I had a dimple in my chin like George Clooney. I did not choose it, any more than I chose to be born, and I have a fool’s right to curse my disadvantages as well as my birth. My life is your life, and recognizing the illusion of “personhood” (cultivated by centuries of philosophy, and eagerly sought after by the author) is an essential step on the road to empathy.
MsPea (Seattle)
No. We can look at other people can think their lives are great, but every life has disappointments, sorrows, regrets. Why take on someone else's? I haven't had a terrible life, but I'm 65 and I've lost both parents and a sister, had my share of medical problems, lost jobs, had a divorce. So what? Everyone has something. The sadness I've experienced has been counterbalanced by joy and love. I wouldn't trade my life for another's.
CallieLou (Princeton, NJ)
In one of his fine autobiographical books, Michael J. Fox described the "bag of rocks" question. A group of people gather in a circle, and can each put their problems/afflictions into the center, as concealed rocks in bags. You have the option to pick a different bag of rocks from the one you contributed. Would you want to trade the "rocks" that you're already dealing with, for a different set?
njglea (Seattle)
No, I've never wished to be someone else. I love my life and am happy I was born just as I am. Every day I Thank the great unknown creator of all existence for my life.

Life is good!
njglea (Seattle)
I'm also looking forward to whatever/whoever I become in the next life.
Alex B (Newton, MA)
According to the 'many worlds' interpretation of quantum mechanics, reality actually consists of "all possible alternate histories and futures", i.e., there are an infinite number of universes and everything that can happen does happen an infinite number of times According to this concept, there are infinite numbers of each of us, each a variation of every characteristic of our selves, including all our 'passing' thoughts and feelings, and of every instant of our lives. In this sense, each of us does live all of our possible lives, constantly and repeatedly forever. I've even had some fleeting impressions which led me to consider that this might be true. But, more likely I'm just old and loosing a grasp of the only reality we actually have. My conclusion; each and every instant of your life is irreplaceable, precious and uniquely your own. Treasure each and every one. When they're gone, so are you.
woodyrd (Colorado)
Yes. But not just to trade places, but to become someone else. Someone who doesn't struggle so much with relationships. Someone with more control over impulses. Someone with truly better self esteem, not just pretending to have better self esteem. The relationships I lack would then, hopefully, fall into place. This isn't a pleasant thing to share, but it is the truth.

Just trading places wouldn't do it...I would be the same person. I would want to be that other person to the core. And it has absolutely nothing to do with wealth, fame or beauty.
álvaro malo (Tucson, AZ)
Making a long argument of something that could be straightforward reasoning.

You may be fairly satisfied with who you are — I am. Nevertheless, out of existential curiosity imagine what it would be like to be somebody else. A great thinker, for me that is Aristotle. Or, since I am a man, often desire to feel the interiority of a woman, maybe Amelia Earhart or Anaïs Nin — no gender ambivalence, but again existential longing.
Abigail Maxwell (Northamptonshire)
I wished to be someone else. About two months before I finally transitioned male to female, I woke at 4am thinking of my friend V---. She was in a wheelchair with MS, after a diagnosis only two years before. I would have swapped places with her to be unequivocally acknowledged female. So I gave up on my careful plans for transition, and just did it.
Rich Accetta-Evans (New York)
It's hard to make sense of what this hypothetical even means. If I "become" someone else than I will no longer be myself, so by definition it will not be "me" who has become that someone else at all. It will just be the same "someone else".
Of course, I could wish for some particular attributes of another person to be my attributes as well, but that is a much different thing than wanting to change identities.
Miriam Helbok (Bronx, NY)
I have often wished that I had attributes or characteristics that I don't have: lots of energy, the ability to make people laugh, and outstanding talents in the arts, to name a few. And I would like to be able to magically transfer into my own brain people's knowledge and expertise in countless fields. Then I'd simultaneously be both the same person and a different person, or perhaps the same person with far more facets.
Larry Eisenberg (Medford, MA.)
At my age the temptation's great
If someone should be at age eight,
But I've had a good run,
At some times great fun,
And a life with a marvelous Mate.
Socrates (Verona NJ)
Larry...with the winning Royal Flush !

Mazel tov !
Larry Eisenberg (Medford, MA.)

Thank you for your kind words.
[email protected] (New Jersey)
I had an "extraordinarily difficult" childhood/early adulthood, resulting in an enormous amount of psychic pain. I don't remember if I wished then to be someone else; maybe I simply wanted to have a different life, but not necessarily someone else's.

Would I want to be someone else today, at 62? Not for anything in the world. Everything that happened to me then -- and subsequently in my life -- informs what I am today. There are things you can't really get over, but if you're lucky, you can learn to live with them and fashion a whole of the many disparate broken parts and learn to connect to the world, to the earth, to life. And I have been extremely fortunate that I was able to learn to live with all of that pain that, yes, does recede, but never fully disappears, without giving in or up.

I also found that meditation helped immensely to make order out of the chaos in my mind and my heart. I have moments when I start ruminating towards darkness, but whenever I find myself doing it, I just stop, close my eyes, and breathe.
Socrates (Verona NJ)
All good things to you, Alexis.

Be quietly proud of your survival, your tenacity and your inimitable spirit.
Michael Eliopoulos (New York, NY)
To paraphrase the words of the late Robert Osborne of TCM, "all you have been is leading to this moment."

Very insightful, thoughtful piece - timely as well. I have had this very topic on my mind and as part of a mid-life (perhaps inevitable) review and course adjustment. I'd add that at times reviewing 'the roads not taken' in one's actual life also lend themselves to realize that you'd equally be a different person in with a whole other set of relations and experiences.

And that leads to what I and my 'here and now,' meditation and peace-oriented lives pursuing a higher vibration of living. That everything is perfect. We are all exactly where we need to be.

Thanks for writing this and to the NY Times for publishing.
Michael Eliopoulos (New York, NY)
Yikes. Typos. "I and my *friends not *'lives.' Haha. Maybe unconscious desires to have those others' lives after all??!?! Haha. And 'equally be a different person in *the world* with a whole other set...'

Marla Burke (Mill Valley, California)
Imagination is a wonderful thing. Playing make believe and day dreaming is all part of the human condition. It's part of what makes us empathetic beings who live with an inner narrative. Yes, we banter with it every second of the day. When I write I feel like I am negotiating with it. That's why stories and storytellers hold sway over us and our society. The power of religion, shamanism and the practice of medicine are sharpened by a truly convincing tale or two. It's built into our DNA as a survival mechanism. Stories and tales dictate the health of us as a species. In other words, we are only as sick as the lies we tell ourselves.
Atikin (North Carolina Yankee)
Nope. For all it's challenges, hardships, heartaches, and disappointments -- the lessons I have learned in love, compassion, and appreciation (of most of things and most people), came too hard-earned to want to give them up by switching off with someone else.
Petey tonei (Ma)
We actually do it on behalf of everyone. It's as though we contribute to ALL humanity. When i kneel and bow down in prayer every morning I do it on behalf of all those who cannot bend down, kneel down or bow down. I do it on their behalf and offer it to the universe. Our gains are never about us, they are for all of us. Same with failure. Coming from we all originate there's no gain or loss.
See also