Being versus Doing

Some people define themselves on who they are and their being, others define themselves on their accomplishments and their doing.  As a high school football coach, I have seen both types of players during high school and then years later.  I have coached young men who define themselves as complete people where football is just one piece of their being.  When high school football is over they never give pause, adapt to football being part of their experience, and use that experience and learnings in building the foundation of their college and career experiences. I have also coached young men whose self-worth was tied into their success on the athletic field, their doing.  Success in sports was how they valued themselves and felt others did too.  Once they stop accomplishing feats of athletic prowess, they cling to their glory days and live in the past. These guys typically don’t achieve at the level they are capable of as they move through life.

I worked with a gentleman who was let go because his ‘doing’ didn’t meet company expectations, but when I talked with him after the RIF (Reduction in Force – a politically correct way to tell someone you are firing them), he was as enthusiastic as ever.  Why?  Because he defined himself on his “being” and that hadn’t changed.  He wasn’t the first person to experience being fired and his career did not define who he was as a person. On the flip side I have also worked with several people who are never satisfied, stay laser focused on what they are doing and are always looking for the next accomplishment to add to their scorecard regardless of the costs.

We also can be guilty of defining others based on their doing.  I worked with a fine man who unexpectedly passed away.  While I was standing in line to pay my condolences to the family at the funeral home, I was watching the slide show of this gentlemen’s life.  It struck me that all I knew about him was what he did at work, not about who he was.  In those twenty minutes, he went from being a technical resource who helped support my efforts to a Dad, Son, Brother, Fisherman.  I was disappointed at myself for never spending time to find out who he was and only paid attention to what he did.

The world likes to define who we are by what we do and accomplish, which is totally backwards.  Instead, what we do should flow from who we are.  While Doing and Being are related, it is the order they come in that is critical.  If you define yourself by what you have done (achievements, accomplishments) then you place your self-worth (value) in the hands of others.  Consider defining your self-worth as a being made in God’s image. Too often, we believe that a man’s value is determined solely by his achievements and measured against the standards of a world that pays homage to winning, possessions, titles and bank accounts.

Boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard famously quoted, “Nothing could satisfy me outside the ring… there is nothing in life that can compare to becoming a world champion, having your hand raised in that moment of glory, with thousands, millions of people cheering you on.” Leonard’s struggles with retirement were well documented, leading him to suffer from extreme bouts of depression and eventually making repeated comebacks.

Chuck Noll, the Hall-of-Fame and 4-time Super Bowl winning coach, very purposefully never let anyone define who he was by what he accomplished.  He publicly said that his value as a person was never improved or lessened based on whether the Steelers were winning or losing games. When he retired from football, Coach Noll didn’t lose his identity—because his job didn’t define who he was.

One of the tragedies of the Alzheimer disease is that it first strips away what you are capable of doing and ultimately impacts your being.  It is not the loss of doing that creates sadness as age and other infirmities can do that too; it is the loss of being that makes this illness despicable.

This struggle between being and doing starts early and is often innocently encouraged. Schools focus on preparing us for our life’s work, our doing, not what we could become. We ask our children what they want to do when they grow up – be a veterinarian, banker, professional athlete, etc. We inspire their dreams which are all great dreams, but they are all related to doing and accomplishments, not being. Those dreams tell us nothing about who our children are, or want to be, inside.  In Paul’s letter to the Galatians (5:22-23) he talks about the fruit of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When do we ever embrace or applaud these inner qualities?  They don’t seem to fit within the world of competitive sports or business.

In Hebrews 11:24-26 we hear that Moses refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.  He considered shame for the sake of God as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt.  Moses was focused on his being and not his doing.

All too often, we believe that a great life requires us to accumulate wealth, or do some grand gesture that makes us stand out from the crowd. However, this is not the case. Instead, a richly rewarding life occurs when we commit ourselves to being excellent on a daily basis.  It will be your being and not your doing that matters most.  When you listen to your heart and are authentic then your daily life has deep meaning.

Are you more about “what you do” than “who you are”? Being versus doing; distinguishing between them and their order will make all the difference in the lives we live.  Then go the additional step and take time to know the ‘beings’ around you and not focus on what they do.

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