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To Be or Not to Be, That is the Question

“To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

It’s like this that Shakespeare opens Hamlet, his most famous play.

I believe that it’s this exact question that either motivates or stops every entrepreneur each day as they sit down to work.

Why? Well – while a conscious mind looks at a “to do” list, the unconscious mind is asking, does this align with my “to be” list? And if the answer is “no” or “not yet”, you’ll procrastinate.  In other words, when your “to do” list doesn’t align with who you want to be, it will never get done.

Years ago, I was traveling in Guatemala with my friend Kelina…  We must have been 19 at the time and our parents barely let us go, and for the first couple weeks, we played the “off the beaten path” tourist game… going from one small village to the next, trying to see and do as much as possible.

Then a few weeks in, things started to shift.

We began to slow down and notice things that we hadn’t noticed before. We shifted from the “doing rhythm” of our lives back home, to the “being rhythm” of this other world.

We found ourselves curious about the big plastic barrels wrapped in blankets, from which the locals sourced a mug of thick steaming hot liquid each day. We went over and tasted atole de platano for the first time… and wondered how we had managed to miss this beautiful cinnamon plantain drink before…

We sampled the big blocks of white confection that had never interested us before and realized that conserva de coca was quite delicious (and not nearly as sweet as it looked)…

We sat down next to a Mayan woman weaving a beautiful cloth on a backstrap loom and before you know it she was teaching us her ancient artform. And as the wooden shuttles of the loom went over and under and over and under and over and under, something shifted inside of me as my hands found a rhythm that had been practiced by women for thousands of years.

We came back day after day for a week until we had both woven our very first clothes.

Looking back, it was an initiation into a very different way of BEING that our Ivy-League-trained minds struggled to make much sense of, and I’ve realized that true knowing isn’t found in the brain.

True knowing is the point where doing meets being. As the proverb goes, “What you do is who you are“.  And when you realize that your “to do” list is actually the same as your “to be” list, your work will take on much a deeper level of meaning and purpose.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve learned to place limits on what we do and who we be. As the lyrics of Janis Joplin’s famous song, Little Girl Blue go: “Who you are is what you settle for, you know?” But if you look at the very meaning of the word “to be,” you’ll see that no limits exist.

In English, “to be” means “to exist or live”. It also means “to take place; happen; occur.” There are no limits build into the word. It just is, as it does.

Now, in Japanese kanji, the word “to be” means “to reach for the moon with one’s hand.” That definition combines the desire with the action… There’s no separation between the doing and the being. It’s not something you do with your head or with your hands. It’s something you do with all of you. With who you are.

When I returned from those 6-weeks in Guatemala, I remember getting into a “what is the meaning of life?” conversation with a philosophy student…

He told me, “The meaning of life is not waiting to be found, it’s waiting to be created.” As a 19 year old, I thought it profound, but later on, I realized that this definition was still more focused on doing than being.

And, so, I came up with my own definition of the meaning of life — to continue life at a higher level of consciousness than you were given it.

It’s not too far from the dictionary definition of the word life: “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.”

To me (and the dictionary), life is not about doing, it’s about growing and evolving.

I believe that entrepreneurship is one of the greatest forces for personal growth and development in the world… when you build a business that expresses who you are and what you’re here for.

Now, what would happen if you merged your “to do” list with your “to be” list?

Would you approach your business any differently?

How would you feel each day? What would you do?

Let me know in the comments.

Love it? Hate it? Let me know...

  1. Grazina A. Szewczyk Avatar
    Grazina A. Szewczyk

    To do is not that bad, some people choose yet another option: to have, without realising that getting more stuff can really dampen your soul.

    If you have “to do” and “to be” balanced you should be fine, choosing “to be” only can slow you down and stop you from taking action when it’s necessary.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      Grazina – I totally agree with you… I’m a big “doer”. My challeng is when I do so feverishly, I lose sight of the being. BTW, my husband Murray is from Brisbane!

  2. Carl Avatar

    Wonderful message and very thought provoking. I find that sometime I like being really busy and I think it’s because my 2B question is unresolved and when I’m not busy it keeps nagging me looking for resolution. When I’m not busy I yearn to be busy so I don’t have to to listen to the nagging. My old desire to do everything all the time for ever and ever is not working out. I’ll have to really work on the 2B as you point out. Thanks

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      That’s a great insight Carl! It is easy to get busy in search of the to be… but sometimes slowing down and creating space is the best way to get in touch with your to be.

  3. Elizabeth Haines Avatar
    Elizabeth Haines

    Profound indeed, and supported by a beautiful personal story! You clarified for me why I am in business even though I am happily retired …from a full time job but not from evolving as a person

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      I love this Elizabeth: I’m retired from a full-time job, but not from “evolving as a person”!

  4. Virginia Reeves Avatar
    Virginia Reeves

    Congruency goes along with being more authentic (true to your being and doing). Thanks for this good reminder Marisa. I like the tips others are sharing too. A good barometer for me is when my body starts dong something ‘different’ and usually not beneficial. Also, when the emotional state feels out of whack.

    1. Marisa Murgatroyd Avatar
      Marisa Murgatroyd

      I totally agree that congruency comes along with authenticity Virginia… and your body has a lot of wisdom when you’re on the right track… or not. 🙂

  5. Rennie Avatar

    Hi Marisa. Thank you for this. Until you pointed it out, I had not connected my to do list with the being list, but now that I have, I see that are in sync. It is important to me to donate to charity, and the more I earn, the more I am able to donate. At this point in my life that is what is driving me.

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