‘To be or not to be: that is the question,’ Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet.
It is still a valid and appropriate statement nearly four hundred years later. In today’s busy world, many people are doing a lot, but they’re not being a lot.
We ‘do’ a lot of stuff. We get out of bed every day, drive the same way to work, do the same job, come home and hope that things will be different tomorrow.
But after so much doing, we can get to a point where we feel stuck in a rut and have no real direction, no real purpose. When we’re always doing and rarely being, life can lose its vitality and meaning.
If this sounds familiar to you and your life situation, there is a way to break this cycle of ‘always doing, always tired, never being who you really want to be’.
The essential thing that will accelerate you to where and who you want to be is to focus on your purpose, your why.
Everybody does something for a reason or a purpose. You go to bed for a purpose. You eat breakfast for a purpose. You go to work for a purpose. You come home for a purpose.
For most people, the primary purpose of doing what they do is to earn money. Money puts food on the table, pays for the kid’s education and yearly holidays, and keeps a roof over the family’s heads.
Yet although the finances are okay, the house might be paid off or near to it, the kids never go to bed hungry, and the overseas holidays are fun, there is often a feeling of incompleteness. There is a kind of emptiness that, no matter how much money is in the bank or has been invested, sits unwell in our stomach like an ulcer.
Although we might be outwardly successful, inwardly it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, it feels kind of rough on the inside.
This happens when we focus on doing rather than being. When we are more of a human doing than a human being, it feels rough. And this is exactly what soul sickness, or soulaemia, feels like in its initial stages.
Unfortunately, to our detriment, we seek solutions or treatment to our soulaemia with more doing. We do more of the same thing, working harder, earning more money, and hope that things will change.
But it doesn’t. Situations don’t change until the person changes. A person’s life doesn’t change until priorities change.
And priorities can only change with a change of focus from doing to being.
I distinctly remember the time when this truth was made abundantly clear to me. I was a junior paediatrician in London rushing down the hospital corridor late for work. I had slept in, not wanting to get up, angry at having to be at work, wanting to be somewhere else, wanting to be somethingelse. I hated my job. I hated my work. I hated being forced to do something I didn’t want to do.
As I ran down the corridor to catch up with the morning ward round, I said to myself, ‘I wish this job would change!’
Suddenly, I stopped in my tracks, motionless in the middle of the corridor, with sudden realisation. The thought I had had was this:
The job is never going to change; it will always be what it is. Only you can change.
From that moment on I worked on the inner change required to make my life better and more fulfilled.
Because I have learned that many people have ‘to-do’ lists, which they happily or unhappily go about filling each day and week, but few people have ‘to-be’ lists.
I wanted to be a writer, but I also wanted to be a lot more than that too. So I collated a list of who and what I wanted to be.
A great activity for you to do now, therefore, is to grab a pen and piece of paper and write down your ‘To-Be’ list.
Write down the first 3 ‘I want to be’ things that come to mind. They will usually be the things that you already have thought about improving yourself, or that others have reminded you to work on. Things like, ‘I want to be…’
- Nicer to others
- More compassionate
- More considerate
- A better listener
- Less self-centred
- More open to other opinions
- Less angry and prone to outbursts
- More generous
- A better parent/brother/sister
Try to avoid writing down things like, richer, stronger, more powerful, more attractive, more successful, things that are physical and thus more aligned with ‘doing’.
Rather, align your list with things that build character and values.
You’re already good at doing, but this exercise helps you to focus also on being. It will help to bring balance back into your daily life.
Once you’ve written your ‘to-be’ list, pin it to your wall or corkboard as a constant reminder of who you want to be. Then, next to it, write another note to yourself asking, “What have you done today to be who you want to be?”
To be or not to be: that is the question.
Now, who said that?