Being and Doing: Why They Can Have a Lasting Impact on Your Life
There is no doubt that understanding what being and doing is, their differences, and how they relate to each other, can have a lasting impact on the quality of your life. We live in an informational era where we are almost exclusively concerned with How-To’s, like how to fix your leaking sink or how to grill salmon. This makes sense because for the first time in history, we have so much access to information, that we can learn most anything and apply a lot of it for our benefit. The fact is that articles that are not How-To just don’t get enough traction. But what about a guideline or a How-To for a fulfilling life? There isn’t one because there’s no step by step on how to live life. Life is too broad, and being tends to be vague and hard to measure.
Still, understanding the unique differences between being and doing is fundamental for our well-being and growth. What is the challenge? Culturally, we already have some preconceived notions about being and doing, and what success in life is. We need a paradigm shift to open up to a better way to be and do. Often we say phrases like: “What do you do?” or “Who do you want to become?” or “What do you want to be when you grow up?” using the words be and do interchangeably without really understanding what they are. How being and doing are intertwined makes it hard to have clarity about what each is and what role they play with each other. Let’s explore being and doing more deeply, especially how understanding them can help improve your life and those around you.
Being as opposed to living, has a quality of having consciousness. While being mostly refers to experiencing emotions such as laughter, sadness, happiness, relating, and belonging, being—conscious and present—gives you the opportunity to conduct the orchestra of your own life. You experience emotions and feelings but you’re not defined by them. Now, being also requires doing, because to be present you must be mindful, to laugh you or someone must share a joke, or to relate you must engage in an intimate conversation. However, think of being as experiencing life with no agenda. The best moments in your life usually happen when we share a special moment with a significant other, when we love and are loved, and when you give a hug. Such things are in the realm of being.
If being is experienced by our emotions and how we feel, then perhaps we should understand how this affects the quality of our life. But it’s important to understand that our being is not defined by the limiting thoughts or emotions. We can feel, but that doesn’t necessarily identify who we are. Thoughts aren’t the same as active thinking. Being mindful means you can identify which thoughts serve you and which ones don’t. To be present, we must be open to experience whatever happens “as is” not as we want it to be. When we’re mindful, we pay attention to any uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that we might have, but we separate them from us. We rise above the thoughts so that we can be there and be present. Of course we can’t control life, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could be our best whatever the circumstance?
So how can you become more mindful? It’s mostly an act of reminding ourselves to be present, selective with our thoughts every day, taking a deep breath, and focusing on what’s in front of you instead of fidgeting with your mind. Realize that you are more than just “your” thoughts. Being mindful doesn’t mean you control how you feel. It means you allow yourself to feel, but you acknowledge that whatever fleeting thought or feeling doesn’t determine who you are. Being is essential for meaning. Nothing would make sense if we disconnect who we are, our values, our hopes and dreams from what we do in our world. We’ll see how being is actually about our connection with others, and how we can be of service.
Doing is usually referred to as actions we take that are goal-oriented. It is anything that is done to accomplish a goal, like working to achieve something, performing, adding value, or making money. Doing is challenging because doing can be never ending. There are all kinds of gaps in doing. For example, this is where you currently are and there’s where you want to get. There’s tension in past and future. There’s a performance gap. A skill gap. A timeline of deliverables. This is why the Internet is mostly about How-To’s: we have too many things to learn and too much competition.
But notice how doing is all about external things, much like how machines operate: flawless and tireless, but with no inner motivation. Note that this is not about how doing is not important, or whether or not doing is as important as being. Doing is fundamental in human accomplishments and we owe a great deal for inheriting the results (and knowledge) of all the hard work that has been done. Human beings have this special quality to point at a destination and go for it. We can also anticipate problems and plan accordingly. It’s part of being human—our ability to imagine a desirable future and create it.
Being and Doing
Doing → Being
The fundamental problem in being and doing is that we place the gap between where we are and where we want to be in ourselves. And that’s okay. But what if you want to do something else? Are we bound to just be one thing? What if you want to change careers? Or what if you retire? Let’s consider how doing influences being. Imagine you want to become, say, an engineer. You must go through a series of courses, and pass all the classes. You need to learn a set of skills for you to be an engineer. So while we identify ourselves with a series of titles, what we really are doing is learning (and earning) what an engineer does. You can become anything, but it’s up to you to decide if that serves you. You can always change, or better said, you can always learn other things.
Our educational system (or perhaps just our culture) sees the individual as incomplete—you lack skills, you are unprepared, you are lacking—until we finally graduate from the system. Most of what we do has the intention of making us complete. For example, you aren’t complete until you graduate from x, work for y, and until you have z. For a couple of decades we go to school to prepare for the challenges of life from a self-serving and self-lacking stance. While it’s true that we learn that the harder you try the better grade you get, it’s disconnected from reality. The school system’s pass/fail approach is useful exclusively in the classroom. However, the success(es) in real life seldom come down to a single moment, but in our ability to quickly learn, iterate, and try again.
But how can you help others if you have no skills? Learning skills is fundamental, but testing whether you know the subject or not shouldn’t be prioritized over proving you can apply those skills to improve any aspect of your life or someone else’s. If you learn something that cannot help improve the world, is it valuable, or is time wasted? The current school system worked well and was designed for the industrial revolution where, much like machines, the system just needed workers to be compliant and processes standardized. Fast forward to today, and we live in a hyper connected world. Creative businesses that can connect with customers at a very human level are crushing it. Can education evolve?
Being → Doing
Now, how does being influence doing? Doing is external and goal-oriented. Assuming you have a big hairy and audacious goal you want to tackle, nothing happens unless you start. So being influences doing in our capacity to be intentional, to set a goal, and make progress. It’s inevitable though that we’ll face setbacks and obstacles. Here is where being and doing gets interesting. If we fail, suffer from a pitfall, or lose time or money, we usually feel that “we” failed. It’s almost inevitable to get negative thoughts, and feel inadequate. That happens when we take action from a lack of self (we’re not enough), and that limits our ability to deal with the setbacks resourcefully and detachedly.
When being drives doing, no longer are actions one dimensional. It’s no longer a how-to-world, not even quite a why-world either, but who we do it for. When being and doing are disconnected, we tend to take action due to our lacking self. Instead, our actions should be aligned for the benefit of not only you, but especially others. In doing “good” and doing for others, we find the resourcefulness to become courageous and focused to solve problems. So how do you practice being and doing? First, you must continually remind yourself that you are a human being. You are whole and connected to others. Second, realize that all actions you take to achieve your goals will have obstacles. Confront them from a complete self and focus to help others, and you’ll be unusually energized and motivated to solve any obstacle.
Being ↔ Doing
When being and doing are at a disconnect, the only thing that seems to matter is reaching a desired outcome with no room for the (bumpy but amazing) journey. Instead, to enjoy the process in reaching that outcome we must connect with our being—letting us experience whatever arises in the present moment. Being and doing is a lot about personal coaching. Coach yourself like a coach does with kids. Believe in yourself. Believe that you have the potential to learn. Be patient with yourself. Be kind as you make mistakes. Have the clarity of the big picture, but focus your energy on every step of the way to get there. Be ready to learn and adjust but without judging or blaming yourself as you get better. And sure, skills (doing) are important, but they mean nothing without compassion, empathy, gratitude, patience, etc (being).
To synchronize being and doing, go on a mission, be present, and find someone to help. When you’re on a mission, you can experience flow, when you’re present you enjoy the journey, and when you help someone you find meaning in your work. When we shift gears from the me-gap, the doing guy, to the complete-me, we can begin to move forward with less of an agenda and be more open to experience the moment. From this point of view, we can establish a destination, create a plan, and execute it. What is success if there is no room to enjoy the journey? What is success if however many achievements we attain, we still feel lacking?
Everyone’s idea of what success is in life is different. Therefore, we may think others should be doing something else and vice versa. But we can agree that at least part of success is making sure that whatever you choose to do positively affects your health, your love life, your happiness, or in other words, your well-being and that of others.
I hope that after you read this, you’ll see yourself in a different light. Remember that being and doing is not just leisure, but a reminder that you can learn and grow (in skills, abilities, knowledge), have fun in the process and persevere in adversity, from a place of wholeness! I hope you vouch to disassociate any limiting thoughts that keep you from doing your best work, creating a lasting and fulfilling impact on your life to help make this world a better place!
Juan F. Diaz
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