Are you a human being or a human doing?
The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar can rob us of our sense of curiosity, joy and wonder.
Wholeness, which we’ve explored in previous articles, is the need to feel sufficient as an individual and connected to others as part of something larger. Most importantly, from our perspective it’s about striking a balance between being and doing. Success in life and work depends on your ability to focus on who you are being, not just what you are doing. In reality, this is a lot more challenging then you might expect.
Our egos, our Western business culture and (for some) our puritan roots all pull us toward the siren call of doing at the expense of being. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and social activist, put it this way: “We are living through the greatest crisis in the history of man; and the crisis is centered in the country that has made a fetish out of action and has lost (or perhaps never had) the sense of contemplation.”
Our professional ideals might pay lip service to the dignity of the person, but without a sense of being and a respect for being, there can be no real appreciation of the person. We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and imagination left for being.
Metaphorically, we see the dichotomy between doing and being as similar to that of an iceberg. In the illustration below, the tangible aspects of doing are above the water line and relatively easy to identify while the intangible aspects of being lie below the water line and are less noticeable and accessible. As with mariners, we potentially ignore at our own peril the significant mass of ice below the surface. As Merton summed up, “More immersion and total absorption in worldly business end by robbing one of a certain necessary perspective.”
In our interactions with veterinary professionals, we see the imbalance between doing and being all the time. We often encounter veterinary students who overidentify with the demands of academic performance and sacrifice self-care. We also observe veterinary practices that are driven daily by a focus on tasks and meetings. Similarly, veterinary continuing education offerings are much more likely to feature topics on effectively getting stuff done than on exploring self-awareness and transformation. The preference for busyness and action over contemplation and reflection is inescapable.
What’s at Stake Personally?
In his article “The Moral Bucket List,” author David Brooks invites us to consider two sets of virtues: résumé virtues and eulogy virtues. Résumé virtues are skills you bring to the marketplace. Eulogy virtues are talked about at your funeral — for example, whether you were kind, brave, honest, loving and faithful.
Brooks notes: “We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.”
He warns that when we live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of us go unexplored and unstructured. We risk being unconsciously separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys.
What’s at Stake Collectively?
In her Medium.com article “Six Enablers of Emergent Learning,” Sahana Chattopadhyay observes that groups in an organizational context usually focus on doing, on tasks, on goals and on deadlines. All these are external oriented, and the result is our inner world gets ignored. By focusing on what needs to be done, we ignore how it gets done. However, the “how” creates the movement of energy, the joy of moving toward a common purpose and the flow that comes when a team operates seamlessly.
When teams neglect this deeper work, they are much less likely to build a strong sense of oneness, to co-create a shared awareness or to develop the confidence to boldly lean into an emerging future.
Which One Are You?
Take a moment to assess where you stand on the continuum between doing and being. The table below highlights how the two realms of doing and being differ.
A couple of great questions to consider might be, “What kind of balance exists between doing and being in my work and life right now?” and “What kind of balance would I like to have?”
To be clear, we are not advocating passivity or suggesting that you drift into inaction. Choosing between doing and being is not an either-or proposition. Once again, it’s about finding a healthy balance.
What we suggest is that you likely have an opportunity to shift from an action-oriented mindset toward a being orientation. Chattopadhyay advises that this means to pay attention to the “source” from where the action is originating. Is it coming from fear, a need to look good, a desire to beat the competition, a craving to gain accolades? Or is it coming from a place of deeper truth, wisdom and insight? This ability to be aware of one’s own intention and the source of one’s actions is a vital trait.
As for ineffective traits, habits and patterns of behavior, getting stuck on thinking about what to do differently is easy. Growth, positive change and personal transformation are all birthed from a deep exploration of our being and by connecting with our authentic selves. We must bring who we are and what we believe and value into alignment with what we do.
For many of us who are products of a culture that values productivity over presence and that often measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, speed, and correct answers, we encourage you to be an enlightened rebel. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar can rob us of our sense of curiosity, joy and wonder, and it can rob an organization of its ability to self-reflect.
Balancing doing with being is an inside-out process that requires a safe container in which to blossom. Let the words of author Doug Stevenson serve as encouragement and permission to create that container for yourself and the people around you: “At some point in your life, perhaps you will tire of the striving for accomplishment and settle into the warm cuddly present. Know this, what is yours will find you. Regardless of your age, you’ve already done enough. Take a deep breath. Breathe in the perfection that is all around you. You are loved. You are respected. You are worthy.”
Go With the Flow co-columnist Trey Cutler is an attorney specializing in veterinary business matters. Co-columnist Dr. Jeff Thoren is the founder of Gifted Leaders, a company offering leadership and coaching services. He serves on the Today’s Veterinary Business editorial advisory board.