“To be is to do”— Socrates
“To do is to be” — Sartre
“Do Be Do Be Do — SinatraIf you haven’t heard seen this pseudo-proof by Kurt Vonnegut before, you haven’t wandered through the hallways of enough college dorms. I thought it was pretty clever first time I saw it, painted on a wall at UCSB where as a rising high school senior I was attending a student government leadership camp. Years would pass before I realized the importance of living beyond the “to do” list and the need instead to master the Art of Being.
One afternoon in 1993 I sat down, exhausted from the “Superwoman” routine of juggling a patchwork of part-time jobs, church service, and community work with being the supportive wife and the mother of a toddler. Said toddler was napping. While I wouldn’t have traded time away from my happy, precocious three-year-old for anything else, that day I longed for the feeling of accomplishment I had when practicing law. In that corporate world, projects were ruled by “closing lists” and were deemed complete, even celebrated, when all outstanding issues were summarily resolved. For an organized, on-top-of-all-issues person—indeed, a renowned “deal closer”—I couldn’t understand why I could get $100-million of stock issued in a company whose name you would recognize, but that day I couldn’t seem to get the laundry done.
Ignoring the many interrupted tasks that shouted for my attention, I flipped open that month’s issue of “Urban Land,” magazine of The Urban Land Institute. ULI had been an important organization for the continuum of real estate professionals at my firm, at land development company I worked for, and then at the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate, so I continued to maintain my ULI membership in my “mostly mom” days as a way of staying professionally connected. (Little did I know I would end up working for ULI a few years later.)
A bold but simple headline caught my eye, and then my imagination: “Do Less. Be More.” The headline was part of an insert extolling ULI membership benefits, but I took it as an invitation to reflect on life. At that moment when I really needed the perspective, I was reminded that life is not just about getting things done, for the sake of getting them done. Impactful people, I’ve since noticed, do get a lot done; arguably, more than most. They just get the “right” things done, the things that reflect their priorities, their core, and yes, their “being.” They know how to “do less” of the less important things, so they can “be more” of the more important things.
Looking back, I live now without regret because I spent that irreplaceable time with Bing and Akemi. My “to do” list went on to get a whole lot worse, working long hours at that ULI job with its not infrequent traveling while a single parent of an accomplished and intensely busy teenager. As I tried to stay on top of Akemi’s complex high school schedule, I wondered what in the world I thought was so tough when she was three years old.
Now as an empty-nester, I have no need to do the “Superwoman” routine any longer, but it’s still tough for me to “do less” and “be more.” I’m better at doing less scheduling and being more spontaneous. Doing less of the safe tried-and-true and being more out-of-the-box. (Okay, I’m talking about going to the theater instead of the Phil, not jumping out of an airplane.) Doing less, period, and being more rested.
But then when I’m feeling good and think I’m “fine,” I blow it by overdoing it. I was all the better this past week for having taken it much easier after the most recent treatment. But the work didn’t exactly go away when I was out of the office and now it’s the end of the semester and academic year, so I’ve been staying late and bringing home work to catch up. So much for working less. Yesterday I tackled house and garden projects with relish but in the late afternoon heat, my calves cramped painfully, and today I’m seriously wishing there was another day in the weekend.
I’m generally better, but my very sore legs and somewhat wilted energy level today remind me that “fine” still operates on a thin margin. Back to doing less and being more patient with myself. In the meantime, I’m trying to listen to those who encourage me that I might as well do less worrying and just be confident that this treatment regime will do the trick. Do Be Do Be Do.