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The Road Ahead - Focus on Doing rather than Being

Don’t try to be better. Just do better for a fulfilling, joyful life

I’ve struggled with the idea of becoming something better my entire life. It’s led to so much pain – bad business investments, bad personal choices, misunderstanding the importance of status, job titles and the value of money. Life is sweet when you  focus on “doing better” instead of trying to “be better”

Focus on the doing rather than the being

As I was reading different posts on this subreddit, something struck me odd and it led to this post. Don’t get me wrong, the notion of “deciding to be better” isn’t wrong, it’s actually quite positive. However, I think the sentiment is a tad misguided. In my recent experiences, I’m realizing that deciding to be better would be better framed as deciding to do better. Because being present, and finding joy is in the doing and not the being.

A bit of background as I try to work my way to making my point.

A few weeks ago a friend posted on Facebook that he was buying a Tesla. And then another one posted the same thing. And another posted about their new job, a very high level appointment at a high flying tech start up. Yet another posted incredible photos of a 3 week vacation they took around the world. And in all cases, instead of being happy for them, I felt a deep resentment and shame that it wasn’t me that was getting those things and having that sort of success.

It took me a few weeks to process those feelings. I hated myself for being angry, and envious. I hated myself even more for feeling shamed. Seriously, why was I feeling shame exactly?

Then a few days ago something changed inside me. I was thinking about my own journey, and how far I’ve come in the past few years. I quit a high paying consulting gig, stopped destructive and bad personal behavior and started meditating and journaling almost every day. I did this because I realized that those things were not leading me anywhere I wanted to go.

My inner voice started to whisper in my head, telling me that the anger and shame were misplaced. The voice was telling me that I was lying to myself about those feelings of anger and shame.
And also, what the hell do I care if a friend does well and buys a nice car, or gets a huge promotion. I mean really, good for them, right? Right!

And yet I was still struggling and having these feelings of shame and envy. I realized that my ego was telling me that I deserve more success. That I deserve more money and more status. That if my friends can get it, so should I!

What’s incredible is that I’ve spent the past 2.5 years redesigning my priorities and my life to escape exactly those traps!

I figured a few years ago that success, money and status is exactly the wrong road for me to travel. It’s a road that leads to loneliness and to my massive ego ruining my life. It’s me giving in to the matrix, taking the wrong pill. Walking the wrong road. And other quotes like that.

Goddamn ego man. It really is the obstacle.

The point is that deciding to be better is the wrong sentiment and can potentially lead to the wrong destination. But doing better, now that’s the right track. That’s having focus. Being in flow. Creating, producing and being productive.  It’s subtle (sort of) and powerful.

And it’s all around if you look closely.

  • Actors talk about doing the work is what leads to great performances.
  • Writers talk about doing the work every day, without fail is the only way to produce anything worthwhile.
  • Nick Saban (Head Football Coach, University of Alabama) created an entire process focused on “doing” that leads the Tide to being the best. It’s not being the best that makes you the best, it’s the doing part that matters!

I have found that focusing on my work and my own process is where I can relax and find joy. It’s where I am truly present. I never realized it before because I’ve been chasing “being” – status, titles, money, power. None of which is what I want.

And now, I really need time to figure what it is I want to DO. I can feel my ego fighting me even as I write this – egging me on, telling me to pick things that lead to money, status and power. And that little voice, gaining in strength every day is just whispering quietly, no. Don’t listen. Just go do stuff, experiment and figure out what it is you do. And then one day, you’ll BE happy.

Update: A thoughtful reader sent me a note about the last line of the post where I say “And then one day, you’ll BE happy.” Firstly how awesome that you read the entire post! Secondly, you are right that that line is problematic in that it is focusing on some future result. I didn’t intend it that way, I meant it in juxtaposition to the concept of being vs. doing, but I get your point loud and clear. Here’s to staying present!

The Problem with Hustle

If you listen carefully and look around a bit you’ll see a fairly persistent meme and a collection of entrepreneur’s and bloggers espousing a “hustle” lifestyle. If you haven’t bumped into these people yet, there is a collection of entrepreneurs who are hustling all the time, all day, every day. Bragging on social media about working 120+ hour weeks and starting multiple businesses. They write blogs (like this one but, umm, popular?), books, make Youtube videos, have Instagram and Snapchat followers and generally are always on.

For a long time I admired these people. To be honest, I had no idea if they were actually making money or how they were able to sustain such an intense pace. I felt for a long time that I wanted this lifestyle. I read their books, blogs and learned “Getting Things Done.” I posted photos of my travels and humble-bragged about Platinum Status on some fucking airline and fancy hotel upgrades at some other fucking hotel.

Now, for true entrepreneurs I do believe that the true hustle mentality is the best and likely only way to survive and thrive. I get it. Success is damn hard. I take nothing from those talented and dedicated people. Building a successful business is nothing to take lightly. So if that’s your bag, kudos! Go make a million billion dollars with your trillion Facebook fans and your millions of views on your insightful, or funny, or smart videos. If that’s for you, go get em! But beware the bullshit. And remember that life is short, even if it feels like it may last forever.

My awakening has jolted me in many ways. In particular, it’s helped me realize that part of my being unconscious was falling into what I now call the #hustle fantasy.

Here’s how it worked for me, your mileage may vary. It’s the anti-Hustle:

  1. You are ambitious, smart and like money. Who doesn’t like money, right?
  2. You believe that everyone (you in particular) have the talent and drive to copy whatever flavor of successful, famous business man/woman is out there and make a sack of money.
  3. You  spend your time reading and learning from them but find that when you go to apply the lessons, they either don’t work as expected. Or, you  realize you’ve been RUNNING DOWN THE WRONG FUCKING PATH.
  4. You resist because you know what, money is good. Success is good. And shit, money + success = happiness. right?
  5. You forget who you are and become this other person, working in a job you hate, or a career that is clearly wrong. Shit goes wrong. You fight, or worse, ignore your family. You don’t get rich.
  6. You hit the wall.
  7. You wake up one day and if you are lucky, realize you’ve been asleep, dream-walking through life, doing your finest job at ignoring your true self.
  8. You come to a one of likely many decision points to do something about it. Maybe you do, or maybe you don’t. But don’t lie to yourself as if what’s going on isn’t real. Your misery isn’t going on holiday and you can’t buy a Tesla to make it all feel better. Your kids are grown up and your wife, if she’s still around is a total stranger. Even worse, YOU are a stranger to YOURSELF.

What is happening to me, right now, at this moment is that I’ve decided I’m not going to take this shit anymore. I’m waking up. I’m awake. And I refuse to go back to sleep. I’m not perfect, no way, not even close. Sometimes I’m at dinner and not present with my family – but it’s a bad habit now, and not who I am anymore.

Hustling isn’t the problem

Let me be clear. There is no problem with hustle. If you find your passion, your calling and your dream, hustle is like breathing. It’s why true entrepreneurs soak up 18 hour days and come back for more. But don’t be an idiot. Hustle is also what con-artists do, they hustle you out of your money and your time. And you if this blog post resonates with you I have some good news and some bad news for you.

The bad news is that you may be hustling yourself – conning yourself. Lying to yourself that the money makes it all right. Or the travel benefits. Or the job title. Good luck with that. It’s not real. You’ve been hustled.

The good news is that you can wake the fuck up. But the first step is the hardest. You have to realize you are asleep in the first place.

So are you hustling yourself out of the beautiful life you deserve?

Life is occasion, rise to it

The Examined Life

Zach Braff made a movie called “Wish I Was Here” in which the main character, loosely based on himself is a struggling actor who refuses to give up his dream. His family endures his dream and everyone bends over backwards to help him make it as he examines his life.

I’ve never felt that strongly about anything in my life. I wonder what it’s like to be willing to die for a dream. It makes me feel weak and lame that I don’t have that *thing* that drives me in that way. Part of the reason this site is called “Searching for Sumthin” is exactly that search.

The movie, which admittedly I have only seen once when it first came out in 2014 has stuck with me and is now representative of the question I’ve been asking everyone I meet about their art.

The blog post I wrote “What is Your Art” is a big part of the examined life. Understanding yourself deeply enough to answer this question seems like a wonderful place to start the examination. You can pick your poison in terms of who to read – Buddhists, Tony Robbins, Steve Pavlina – they are all great and all have wisdom and bits that will help guide your journey.

But in the end, it feels like introspection and honesty with yourself is the key here. Examining your life requires stripping away all the bullshit and getting right down to it. Here are 5 great questions I’m asking myself to help take this to the next level. These questions are by no means complete and are simply to get your brain moving.

The Examined Life Starter Questions

  1. What activity or thing would you do full time, without pay for 6 months, or a year? Or forever.
  2. What did you dream about when you were a kid?
  3. If you went to college – why did you go, really? And if you didn’t go, why did you make that decision?
  4. Do you believe in God? If so, why and if not, why?
  5. Do you like yourself?

There are a million other questions we could all ask but start here. I have spent a bunch of time considering the first 3 and am working on the last 2 actively. It’s not easy to examine your life. Being honest with yourself can be hard to do!

The examined life can feel like a silly exercise, but it’s the key to understanding yourself and finding you way home.