On Doing and Being

September 4, 2021

I have been thinking a lot about how much I do. Not in some aggrandized “look at me and how much I get done” kind of way. Instead, in the “there are 24 hours in a day and I spend an awful lot of precious hours doing lots of stuff” kind of way. And there’s nothing special about this. All of us spend lots of time doing things. Getting things done. Moving the dial.

On Doing

We live in a doing-driven culture. Doing is how we interact with the world – our observable, external, normative, behaviour-driven, measurable, oftentimes linear impact. In our doing-driven culture, initiative (and completion) is valued. A sense of urgency prevails. In our doing-driven culture, doing is what we produce, it is what we achieve, and how we perform.

Not surprisingly, doing is also a measure of our Western identities. The time we spend at work is magnitudes more than the time we spend with our families, practicing our spirituality, or frankly, anything else. Not surprisingly, when we meet someone new, one of the first questions we ask is, “What do you do?”. And why wouldn’t we? What we do is a subtle cultural signal of our clout, our income, and ultimately, our worth.

This has always bothered me — the notion that I am what I do. We aren’t called human doings, after all. Instead, I’ve always much preferred Popeye’s wisdom: I am who I am.

Which leads us to being.

On Being

Being is what’s underneath all of the doing. It’s our thoughts, our beliefs, and the collection of experiences that shape our worldview. Being is the pause between our thinking, the space in which internal shifts come and go. It is the underneath, non-normative, feeling-driven, immeasurable, nonlinear internal processes that ultimately inform what we do.

Recently, I have been a lot more mindful of my being. Indeed, I have been diligent about it. One simple question has permeated my mind over the past several months as I do things, "Who do I want to be in this very moment?"

And while my answers to this question change from experience to experience (be less assertive, be more compassionate, be quieter, be way more impish, for example), the pervasive lasting feeling in this exercise of self-determination and mindfulness have been remarkably consistent: more acceptance, more openness, more curiosity, and ultimately more joy.

How I choose to be in any given moment influences what I feel. That, in turn, influences what I do. Not revolutionary stuff, I know. But profoundly life-altering at the same time.

What if we all paused at moments during the day and asked ourselves not what we had to get done, but instead, of the person we would like to be? What impact would that have on our decisions, our relationships, and the quality of our lives, both at work and at home? What if we started asking ourselves at any given moment during the day: right now, who do I want to be?