I am a human being. I am not a human doing.

I heard this quote yesterday on a podcast I was listening to about beliefs and thinking patterns. And, it got me thinking about my life. 

Being a high-achiever and a high-performer, I have always struggled with quenching my insatiable need for accomplishment and achievement. When I was in high school, I would aim for top grades. When I completed high school, I was aiming for the best colleges. Later on, I was always rushing behind the best universities, the best companies to work for, the best paychecks, and the best projects. You get the point. And trying to satisfy my quench for achievements, I would often burn the midnight oil, pulling out all nights, and even canceling family plans. Getting myself killed over a project was considered a badge of honor.

Well, I would say that partly it’s my culture to blame and partly it’s the whole environment we have created for ourselves in this world today. Being Asian, our culture promotes a mindset of achievements as a source of one’s identity and credibility. And that kept us (especially me) in a perpetual loop of self-doubt. Secondly, today we are living in a world where we are constantly doing or chasing something. We have created a global culture of perpetual doing and drivenness. The world celebrates the idea of a workaholic.

Now thinking out loud, I still feel my Asian culture has slightly more influence on this. Growing up, when I would come home to my parents with my grade card, the first question they would ask is, “Who came first in class?” 

We are wired to believe that we are a series of achievements. And that’s what puts us in a constant “doing” mode. This, in turn only serves to confirm our view that we are not the kind of person we feel we need to be in order to be happy. I recently came across an interesting piece of research, done in 2014 by Timothy Wilson, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia et al. The researchers found that between doing nothing for 6 to 15 minutes and giving themselves mild electric shocks, a significantly large pool of participants chose the latter (administer mild electric shocks) instead of being left alone with their thoughts.

Okay – there is nothing wrong with “doing.” It works as a brilliant strategy for solving problems and working on goals. It also underlies many of our reactions to everyday emotional experiences. But, there’s also a reason we are called human “beings.” It’s not easily conveyed in words, yet, in many ways, it is the opposite of this driven–doing mode. It is the difference between creating linear action plans vs taking inspired action. “Being” puts you in the zone of acceptance and gratitude, instead of constantly monitoring and evaluating. 

When I evolved from my corporate career into being a coach, I started realizing this difference more profoundly. In this “being” mode, there’s a sense of freedom and freshness and more possibility around your life than you may have imagined possible.

Bottom line: The argument is not about “doing” vs “being.” I am trying to convey my point on “doing” and “being.” But, sadly, in our frenzied world, our focus is solely on “doing.”

I am a human being. I am not just a human doing.

Ponder on that for a second. What are your thoughts on this? How do you feel about “being”? How would you balance “doing” and “being” in this journey of being human?


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