To Be Someone or To Do Something? That Really Is The Question

There are some people that I struggle to like, let alone love.

They are those that preen.

Those who seem so full of their self-importance, strut around like peacocks, and who want everyone to notice them.

You can see it so obviously with some, while with others, it’s more like a hidden agenda that they aren’t even consciously aware of.

Enter into my reading zone is the book Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.

There is a story in it that I have been pondering over. Ego is the Enemy

It’s the story of Air force corporal John Boyd who never really rose up amongst the ranks. His life was not filled with a desire for successful upward ambition, but more of being a faithful servant in the service of his country.

Through his dedication to honing his craft of military strategy, he was able to influence just about every area of the military.

Whenever he would sense that a new recruit had something unique to offer, he would give them a short but powerful talk.

Tiger, one day you will come to a fork in the road,” Boyd said to him.

“And you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.”

Using his hands to illustrate, Boyd marked off these two directions.

“If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.”

Then Boyd paused, to make the alternative clear.

“Or,” he said, “you can go that way and you can do something—something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself.

If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference.

To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you will have to make a decision.”

And then Boyd concluded with words that would guide that young man and many of his peers for the rest of their lives.

“To be or to do? Which way will you go?”

To be someone or to do something.

How does that touchdown on you?

And it’s like the finest fork in the road you could ever find.

Such an easy choice to ‘do something’ with an unconscious desire to actually ‘be someone’.

The other path is just doing something for the pure motivation that this is something that needs to be done, and if it needs to be done, then you might as well be the one that does it.

Biblical stories flooded my mind.

  • Jesus washing disciples feet John 13:1-17
  • Jesus talking about being secret givers Matthew 6:1-4
  • Jesus direction on prayer that it should be done in secrecy Matthew 6:5-6
  • The poor but wise man of Ecclesiastes Ecclesiastes 9:15
  • Nehemiah refusing to come down from the wall because he was doing a great thing. Nehemiah 6:3
  • Satans temptation of Jesus – ‘since you are Gods son …’ (being someone) Matthew 4:1-11

You see it’s not about the person, it’s about the action, and it’s not about the action it’s about the heart motivation of the action seen by the one who sees all and knows all.

But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve
Jeremiah 17:10

So what does success look like?

I listen to lots of podcasts.

There are some podcasts that I am weaning out of my diet.

They are those that typically sell me a hype that success is based around numbers.

    • Number of books sold
    • Growth in business
    • Dollars in bank
    • Amount of bling and blonde.

Do you know what I mean?

I listen with one earbud in because I want to be tuned in to the world around me.

Yes, I can often glean a few good ideas out of the noise, but I don’t want to see myself subtly slipping down that narrow fork in the road towards self-centered egoism.

The secret of real success?

Do it all for the one who sees all and knows all.

You will never satisfy your own ego needs.

There will always be a desire for more and more and more.

A leech has twin daughters
    named “Gimme” and “Gimme more.”
Proverbs 30:15

Don’t let the leech sisters latch on!

Striving after ego satisfaction will lead to bucket lists that will keep you anxious and depressed. In the end, you will discover the bucket was full of empty promises.

Better to do one thing well, with the pure motivation of serving the one who sees all and knows all.

Why did Mother Theresa become ‘famous’?

She cleaned toilets.

Quotes to consider

  • Only when free of ego and baggage can anyone perform to their utmost. Ryan Holiday
  • What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence, and self-awareness. Ryan Holiday
  • So what is scarce and rare? Silence. The ability to deliberately keep yourself out of the conversation and subsist without its validation. Ryan Holiday
  • You know a workman by the chips they leave. It’s true. To judge your progress properly, just take a look at the floor. Ryan Holiday

Questions to answer

  1. What would being a secret servant look like for you?
  2. To be someone or to do something. The challenge is when you do something with the purest intention of not being someone and then being offered the glitter of being someone. How does one keep the attitude of being a toilet cleaning Mother Theresa/ John Boyd?
  3. Deep down, why do some people want to be someone?
  4. What other biblical examples illustrate this idea of doing something over being someone?

Barry Pearman

Image: Pablo Garcia Saldaña

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