Honest-to-Goodness Philosophy with Katie Sulatycki

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She loves old books and crisp fall mornings. Cedars and poplars, the feeling of rain on her skin on a hot day, or snow on her eyelashes when the air is so cold it hurts to breathe. It's only fitting that I met her at a bonfire on the outskirts of our industrial hometown. It was the end of summer, I was starting university the next week, and her friendly demeanour for a philosophy student delighted me.

We're both natural redheads and we've both been called stubborn. "My friends and family say that I’m 'a bit intense,'" she laughs. "I like to think by intense they mean passionate." Her name is Katie Sulatycki and she's now 27 years old. She holds two Master's degrees from Windsor - one in Philosophy and the other in Business Administration. She still doesn't take life too seriously. She urges everyone to "learn to laugh and learn from your mistakes" and to "put more good into the world than bad. "And, of course, "remember that life is absurd!"

Speaking of absurd, I'll never forget the wacky night we fled from someone at Phog Lounge on University Avenue … down Pelissier (lovingly mispronounced "pull-ish-err") then back up towards SnackBar-B-Q. It was on Chatham Street where we made some hilarious memories before her father, who totally resembles Santa Claus, rescued us in his van.

One of Katie's favourite phrases is “The only thing I know is that I know nothing." Despite that, she graciously agreed to answer some of my questions about philosophy, business, and bad faith. Keep reading to be enlightened by her unpretentious approach.

RS: It's sad that a lot of people are turned off of philosophy.
KS: It can seem inaccessible, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

RS: What do you recommend to those who are just starting out?
KS: I love reading, but I’ll be the first to admit that I am a slow reader, always have been. If you’re interested in philosophy, but some of the texts seem off-putting right now, then take it slow. Start exploring different topics on Wikipedia or in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Check out blogs or podcasts. Pick up some supplementary texts from your local bookstore or library. It’s okay not to understand something the first time, the second time, even the third time. There are still concepts in philosophy that I have issues with, or things that I feel I have a really good grasp of, and the next thing I know, I’m questioning it all over again. That’s part of the fun, honestly.

RS: What happened in your Recent German class during your MA that really struck you?
KS: I remember we were going through an excerpt of Heidegger’s Being and Time when my professor just stopped and ended class early. Even he had enough of trying to interpret Heidegger for the day. I admired that so much about him. I try to embody that now - that it’s okay to admit when you don’t know something or are having difficulty in some respect.

RS: Another misconception is that philosophy is an “old boy’s club."
KS: To some extent, I think this is still true, but I have hope that it’s changing. Looking back, there were definitely some implicit biases about gender in philosophy. My issues lie with the way that some professors, and fellow classmates, would treat the works of female philosophers as if they were lesser than their male counterparts.

RS: What happened when you brought this up to a female friend?
KS: I thought I was thinking too much into it and always pushed these thoughts to the back of my mind. Turns out she was experiencing the same thing during her degree.

RS: What do you say to the people who think philosophy is useless?
KS: Six years is a long time to spend doing anything, especially philosophy, but I don’t regret any of it. Not only has it helped guide the bulk of my decisions and actions, but it has proven to be invaluable in the realm of business.

RS: So you decided to delve into the world of business.
KS: Turns out it’s possible to love two very different things. I’m passionate about making philosophy more accessible and trying to blend it with the world of business. I like to think of myself as an existential and creative problem-solver. Trying to integrate philosophy into the more practical side of things, whether it be business ethics, consulting, strategy, marketing, or something completely different.

RS: What do you do, career-wise?
KS: Until recently I was working a contract position at a small research institute as their research project manager. They did ethics consulting in the global health industry. It was fascinating work to be a part of, and a great experience. I’d love to work in consulting & strategy again, but I am open to different opportunities. I’ve also been toying with the idea of applying to business PhD programs in a year or two. Who knows what the future will bring!

RS: How did your MBA challenge you?
KS: It was hyper-social and fast-paced … almost the exact opposite of my time spent studying philosophy. I could tell you about learning finance and accounting, but the biggest challenge for me was the social aspect. I never realised how truly exhausting being “on” all the time was.

RS: What do you do when you need a break from that sort of intensity?
KS: I was not always a nature person, but moving to Hamilton really changed that part of me. Since moving up here, I’ve become an avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast.

RS: Favourite outdoor moment?
KS: One of the most beautiful and surreal moments I’ve ever experienced happened on Lake Superior. There’s nothing quite like viewing the night sky in total darkness, with only the sounds of the waves crashing against the rocks. If you ask my friends and family, they’ll tell you there aren’t many things that leave me speechless, but that was definitely one of them.

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RS: It’s nice to just disconnect completely,
KS: Yes. Being in nature allows me time for myself, to reflect in the moment. Sometimes I fantasize about dropping everything, heading up north and just finding a way to live more in tune with nature… but right now Hamilton provides a good balance for indoor and outdoor living.

RS: So you’re happy you moved to Hamilton?
KS: Hamilton is an amazing community, with a vibrant arts and culture scene. This year I’ve decided I want to be more involved, so I’m volunteering at the Fringe Festival.

RS: What will you do there?
KS: I’ll be working as an Information Ambassador, which means I get to hang around the main Fringe Festival area and interact with festival patrons - answer their question, provide directions, that sort of thing. When I was in Windsor, I used to volunteer at the Windsor International Film Festival doing something similar. I always had a blast doing it.

RS: Tell us why The Count of Monte Cristo is one of your favourite books of all time.
KS: I think it was the movie starring Jim Caviezel that got me interested. (For what it’s worth, the movie and book are rather different.) It was the first book aside from my childhood favourites (Harry Potter, His Dark Materials) that kept me turning pages like crazy.

RS: It sounds like it really kept you on edge.
KS: I am not a vengeful person whatsoever, but it is truly the greatest revenge fantasy of all time. For me though, it isn’t about Dantes’ revenge on the world, or how far he’s willing to go to make everyone who has wronged him “pay.” It’s about the details. The plan itself is insane. And the fact that while Dantes has been wronged, and you know parts of his plan are kind of messed up, you still root for him.

RS: You know it’s a good book when just thinking about it still evokes emotion.
KS: Danglars, Fernand, and Villefort still make me angry!  

RS: When is life the most absurd for you?
KS: Honestly, pretty much all the time. I guess I find it more absurd at night, like those times when you can’t sleep at 3am. It’s most absurd when I start thinking about meaning, death, free will, authenticity, or anything that falls into that category. As much as I say Sartre is just a rip-off of Heidegger, some of his words do resonate with me. Someone once told me that I’d grow out of the existential phase, but I’m still waiting for that to happen.

RS: However, you occasionally cross the line from existentialism to nihilism.
KS: Or even fatalism. It’s one thing to accept that everything is meaningless, but it’s another to be able to get past that and realise you have a choice - you can choose the defeatist route, or you can embrace the absurdity and create your own meaning.

RS: What do you find deceiving in our world?
KS: People. We all have an image we’re trying to convey. A narrative we’re trying to construct. Whatever it may be, we all have an agenda - good or bad. It’s difficult to show the world who you are, so we show the world a part of it, and then construct the rest of our story around that. Is it even possible to be truly authentic? I used to think so, but I'm not sure anymore.

RS: What concerns you about social media?
KS: The way so many of us feel like we have to craft a specific, curated image of ourselves, of our lives, to show the world how cool and exciting it is to be us. I’ve heard some of my friends and colleagues talk about how the fear of missing out, and the anxiety that comes with trying to convey whatever image you’re going for.

RS: I think you're the only person who's prompted me in real life to check whether I've been caught in that trap.
KS: I'm glad! It's definitely not for me. I’m sure there are some people who legitimately enjoy constructing their perfect persona through social media, but that whole game just felt so fake to me. I still post things online, I just started questioning my motives every time I would do it. “Am I doing this for me, or am I doing this because I want people to think I’m cool and carefree or whatever?”

RS: What's the scariest thing you've ever done?
KS: Admit to myself that I don’t have all the answers, and never will. And half-jokingly, solving my regularly occurring existential crises. Have you ever seriously thought about existence? It's legitimately terrifying.

RS: You used to think there was a way to “get over” that anxiety.
KS: A way to embrace life without worrying about the endgame (death). But then I realised it’s a necessary part of the human condition, you know? It’s part of what makes everything we do so amazing. The fact that it’s finite. That everything ends.

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