doing and/or being

With a third of 2011 behind us already, the achievement oriented among us will be assessing what we’ve managed to accomplish in the months that have passed. For me, as another week kicks off I am living the tension between being and doing.

Many years ago, Gordon MacDonald in his book Ordering Your Private World, formatively (for me) made a distinction between being ‘driven’ and being ‘called’. My memory is scant of the detail, but as I project my current understanding back onto the ideas, being driven had things like compulsion, a sense of striving, and a type of workaholic addiction associated with it. Being called (by God) had more freedom, a sense of choice and ultimately service associated with it.

I recall that a network of friends I had at the time, decided to eliminate the word ‘should’ from their vocabulary as an expression of wanting live in less conformity to social norms and expectations. The idea was that whenever we said ‘should’ we were adopting an expectation from outside that may not be helpful. Of course, its more complicated that that. We all conform to the norms of the community with which we want to identify and conformity is seen this context as a healthy thing. (As in, “We should eliminate ‘should’ from our vocab”. J)

Over the years I have admired driven people, elite sports people who are single minded in their pursuit of excellence and even domination. I don’t know much about her, but I’d be surprised if Lennox Head’s Sally Fitzgibbons, as she takes a back to back championship this weekend in her rise to superstardom, has got there through anything less than unreasonable determination. As Bertrand Russell has famously said, “All progress is as a result of the unreasonable man.”

But then I know how wellbeing is not just about contribution and achievement. A full and satisfying life is not just about doing. It is about being. We all know that famous achievers are often tormented souls. We know that accolades are way less than sufficient for a good life.

So I start this week wondering about the tensions between striving for achievement, recognition, contribution, excellence and making a difference (feels like being driven), and the satisfaction that comes from soaking in the beauty and goodness of life; afternoon snoozes on the weekend, duck risotto that took half a day of pottering to concoct, and slow family conversations around the table. (just being)

I’m making artificial distinctions here, but the point for me is that both components are necessary. It’s not about balance. It’s about both on full volume. The challenge ends up being about transition, moving from one mode to the other. Not helped today by the fact I’m recovering from a bit of a lurgy.

I am helped by asking myself the ‘why?’ question. Am I just going through the motions? What am I seeking to achieve and who am I wanting to be? Gordon MacDonald’s distinction remains helpful. Am I simply conforming, or being swept along in the wave of what society expects and demands?

What does it look like for you to be ambitious and content at the same time? What are you learning about switching modes; from striving to contribute something substantial to basking in the peacefulness of being?