To Do or Not to Be…That’s The Question!

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To be or not to be. Photo by Roel Wijnants

As I prepared for Blogging101 course’s task, I knew clearly what I had to do. I had visited a blog that caught my undivided attention, and I will let you know why.

I’ve been mulling over thoughts after I engaged on a thoughtful discussion at Rebecca Magnus’ blog – That Saucy Tart – about identity and who we are.

There was a candid and deep discussion amongst millennial newcomers, experimenting the world of work, and the rest of us, some veterans like myself. The average perception seemed to be that there is a rigid dichotomy between two simple questions: who are you and what you do. The latter question generating excruciating pain and anxiety to a whole lot of people, ranging from career beginners to more experienced ones, if the question caught them at crossroads, doubting vocations and career direction, or when being in a transition phase, due to unemployment or resignation.

And why is that?

There is a belief – widely accepted in the world of work – that DOING something, defines your identity and your worth, in detriment of BEING someone. Nobody seems interested to know who one is. Besides that, there is another controversial belief, that ‘doing’ something worthy, is related to some beta professions found in the corporate world, as opposed to the alpha ones, as in arts and humanities, for example. Unless you are a famous painter or writer…

To Do, and consequently To Have, in contrast with To Be has been an unanswered question philosophers have been rambling on for countless years. The only constant factor has been us, humans, and our ability to repeat history and its timeless dilemmas of life. To be someone and to be respected for that remains being one of the dilemmas and deepest wishes we have.

I believe that prior to the industrial revolution, and the creation of jobs as we know it, the burden might have been similar; although jobs and career success were not centerpiece in the puzzle, but a noble occupation for some and survival for others. Contemporary societies became a much harder place to live in, from that perspective, for the expectation that one should be active, on the go, doing, consuming, delivering achievements, wealth and success, while becoming someone, regardless of talent and life’s meaning.

Eric Hoffer, an American moral and social philosopher, has a quote that describes well this downward spiraling mindset of being busy, as a way to build an identity, and to get the license to exist and be accepted in society.

“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else – we are the busiest people in the world.”

Eric Hoffer

I for one, like some commentators on Rebecca’s blog, feel uncomfortable with this weight on my shoulders. Although I made career and life choices, which were designed by my own expectations, I also dislike to get the ‘what do you do” question. Even worse is the judgment that may follow, associated with my choices.

Even though I am confident that I have never, and will never craft my choices conforming to the beliefs and aspirations of others but mine, this doesn’t mean that I have found the right answer or a formula to give to those troubled with this poisoning question.

I can only affirm, from my own experience, that one of the chief sources of unhappiness is to try to mirror other’s perceived successful life choices, or to fulfill people’s expectations. You will never succeed by using their compass to guide your choices; you are too unique to ever fit in their measurements.

We owe to ourselves to not take life too seriously, and certainly not those who can only see the value of being alive, from the lenses of being active – or just busy. This is too shallow.

We should not be frozen in fear – if asking ourselves, or answering to others – when searching who we are or what we do. Both questions are equally relevant and will continue being asked as we evolve personally or professionally.

Whatever we do, or are looking for in life, and whoever we are, let’s say it, and be proud.

And let’s also not forget to tell ourselves: I’m good. I’m the best. I’m a wonderful person (Thanks, Michele Weber for the masterclass in self worth).


Photo credit: Roel Wijnants – January 2010

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Sharing sights & insights captured with diverse angles. Ex-corporate, now my own boss. Cycling, hiking, cooking, reading, yoga, writing and photography, are no longer only hobbies listed on my resume. It's what I do when I want.

13 thoughts on “To Do or Not to Be…That’s The Question!

  1. Very well said. I love it and can relate. I always get uncomfortable when people ask “So what do you do?” right after you met them. Does it really matter? Isn’t it more important who I am, what kind of person I am? And what I find even worse is, when they ask “What does your husband do?”… Why? Is our society really as shallow? Or are we all so insecure that we constantly have to measure yourselves with others? Or are we on a constant look out for new networks? Is there a hidden agenda?… And I will just use this to start my blog post now 😉

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    1. So…”What does your husband do?”
      Kidding you.
      I hate to generalize but do it anyway, as there is more strong evidence of this shallowness in our societies. You ask good questions to help us shy away from generalizations. Each and every one of us can answer those and figure out which path to follow. Thanks for that. I’m happy you liked this post.

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  2. Every sentence is loaded and thought provoking. Thankfully, have managed to ‘do my own things’ for most of my life, but still we, at times have been hoping to find meaningfulness in being busy !! Thanks for reminding “You will never succeed by using their compass to guide your choices; you are too unique to ever fit in their measurements”.

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    1. Hi Dipak. Happy to see you here. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Please bring more.
      I totally relate to what you said. Sometimes we are gifted, though, to find people like you – despite the busy times – and that is meaningful.

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  3. I agree that we need to follow our own inner guidance system and not let other expectations dictate to us. Mindless busyness is a way of distracting ourselves from really thinking about our lives. If what we chose to do resonates with our inner being then it is truly us but if we are just doing it because it is what everyone else is doing then it is not authentic.

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