Ask people what are the most important things in life and you’re likely to get responses that include health, happiness, family, friends, faith, love, learning, experience, a sense of purpose, or other such non-material, non-career-related answers.
So, why is it that, in the morning when we’re sipping our coffee and we ask each other “what’s your day look like,” or “what do you have to do today,” we bring up all the things on our to-do list, which almost never includes the important things mentioned above?
With them not appearing anywhere on our list, are we not in effect saying today I have to occupy my time and expend my energy on things that aren’t very important. It’s a shame, don’t you think?
Of course, if we whittle it down, we’re likely to find many of the things on our daily lists do relate to the important matters. For instance, even though it may not be explicitly stated, the eleven o’clock meeting to discuss widgets is important because it’s part of your job, and the job is important because it supplies you with the money to provide food, clothing and a place to live for your family. So, the meeting is in direct relation to the importance of family.
The word “family” may not appear on the list, but it’s there, just like health, happiness, friends, learning and all the other important things are there.
In listing the words, it strikes me that no single one of them covers the entirety of important things in life, and that sometimes important things can be at odds with each other. That job, which we decided is important because it allows you to provide for your family, may also be so menial that you’re not learning anything new, you don’t feel a sense of purpose in doing it, and you’re not happy, in which case, maybe it’s not so important.
To even reference the things-to-do list, invites the charge of triviality, and opens a discussion about the difference between doing and being. The doing part of us has a vision and a desire for fulfillment. It imagines greater fulfillment and a happier life, and it sets goals to get there. It draws on the past, projects into the future, and acts in the present. It convinces you something’s not right, something needs to be done and needs to be changed in order for you to be happy and fulfilled. Being, on the other hand, says it’s all here right now, all you have to do is realize it.
I’m not so sure it’s quite as simple and clear-cut as that. I think of Ecclesiastes, and I am reminded that “To everything there is a season.” Instead of pitting doing and being against each other, as different styles and approaches, proclaiming one way better and one way worse, can we not imagine there are appropriate times for both, and the doing and the being are not quite so separate as some might suppose.
You want to be a bodybuilder, then you need to do certain things, like go to the gym, lift weights and eat in a particular way. You want to do something for that child or that old person. Maybe the best thing you can do is to just be with them, or be there for them.
The being and the doing are not always separate. Sometimes we can approach fulfillment in different ways and from different directions.
So while go to the gym or get the car fixed or lunch with a friend might seem trivial, as words on a list or the answer to “what are you going to do today,” they still often relate to the important things in life.