I attended an excellent training event a couple of years ago, and the keynote speaker was one of those rare gems that captivated the room from start to finish. During her wrap-up she inquired, “Remember when you were a kid and someone asked, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ … How did you answer?”
The room was silent, but after some mild coaxing people began to shout out, “A teacher… astronaut... doctor... a lawyer… fireman... baseball player... rock star… a mom … a nun”… and on it went.
After a few minutes of good-natured banter over our responses the speaker regained control of the room as she simply mused aloud, “How interesting.” Then without saying another word she began to walk slowly among the tables and with expert control, the silence grew.
She continued. “You notice… I didn’t ask what you wanted to do…. I asked what you wanted to be” (Another expert pause.) The hush that exploded over the room gave me chills as we each scrambled to reprogram our thoughts in a heartbeat and to allow what she was saying to sink in. “Each of you immediately began to describe the kind of jobs you wanted to do.”
At this point my mind raced off to process that last statement. “Now, wait a minute,” I thought, “that’s really not fair. After all, we don’t say we want to do teaching, or do acting. We say we want to be a teacher, and we understand the implied meaning reflects vocational activity.”
Her next question drew me back, “But, didn’t you want to be kind and forgiving? Wouldn’t that fit the “to be” part of the question? …Didn’t you want to be loving & compassionate? How about being helpful, honest, & respectful? Maybe we just need to think of the question in a different light.”
The more I thought about it the more aware I became of the subtle yet astounding contrast in the whole doing vs. being thing. We live in a sort of hyperactive performance driven frenzy. The pace becomes a suffocating, strangling monster that requires a tight rein (or an impossibly large cage).
We strive and scurry and bust our tails daily to perform, to measure results, and to keep putting it out bigger and better. But it’s never enough. Regardless of how hard we try, the ante is always upped, and the clawing, scratching, competitive race of life continues unless we consciously step back from all the craziness and begin to focus on what it really means to be.