What do you want to be (when you grow up)?

Agh, the question we all get asked time and again, as ubiquitous as stars in the sky, later followed and superseded by its sister question, “What do you do (for a living)? At first glance, it easily seems as mundane a question as it is a common one.  After all, we all know the answer changes as easily as the direction of a leaf floating in the wind, and what’s more modern than wanting to have one career for the rest of your life, right? 

Let me step back a moment and address the underlying and unspoken assumption in the question. Even though it asks what you or I want to be, we naturally infer that we are being asked what we want to do, almost unknowingly equating being and doing. But, are being and doing really the same thing?

Let’s take a look at some of the definitions of these words from the Webster’s 1913 dictionary:


“To perform, as an action; to execute; to transact to carry out in action.”


“To exist actually, or in the world of fact; to have existence.”

“To exist in a certain manner or relation…”

“To take place; to happen…”

“To signify; to represent or symbolize”

Treating being and doing with the same meaning does us a great disservice, especially in a society where it’s all too common, whether consciously or not, to tie self-worth, value, meaning, and happiness to our work, careers, and results – the actions we do. Not that making the same entwined connection with how we perceive ourselves as being in any given moment would do us any better. I’m fascinated by answering this query from the perspective of being.

Who do I want to Be?

For a large part of my life, and to some extent even now, I’ve attached my job, my career, and my actions to how I’ve viewed my own value. It has made my outlook over time much like a rollercoaster, all the while depending on my employment status, my role, my position, comparison, and other external factors that I have no control over, regardless of the influence I might have had. From my own experience, thinking and buying into this notion makes it easy to feel like a victim to circumstance, others, and life in general.

When I begin detaching what I do with who I am and what I want to be, the world begins opening up further and further to infinite possibilities. We are all gifted with existence from the start. We don’t need to sacrifice for it or prove our worth for it. It is inherently and undeniably ours no matter where we come from, how wealthy we are, what our beliefs are, and what our skin color or gender may be. Being is a blank slate, with which we can create over and over again. Similar to an etch-a-sketch, we can wipe away what we no longer want and start afresh. In fact, we don’t even need to start all over again from scratch each time. We have the ability to infinitely create at any moment who we are and how we are being in the world.

I often forget this myself. Between the barrage of conditioning we accumulate and getting tricked by our thinking, buying into what it tells us all too often, it can be quite hard at times to recognize and appreciate the power we have in every moment to create who we are being. Being, just like doing, is not a static destination we arrive at. Instead, like nature, the seasons, and the rotation of the earth, it is in a constant state of flux, a never-ending journey of creation – and destruction – progressing all the time. A single answer, just like a single target, doesn’t exist.

Wait, I Thought You Were Going to Answer the Question!

I want to surprise myself with who and how I am being. I want to learn to simply be more often rather than riding the hamster wheel of constantly doing incessantly. I’d love to drop all the preconceived notions of limits, capabilities, and the “way things are”. Rather, I relish all the opportunities to create who I am going forward. Granted, putting who I am, or going to be, into words is nearly impossible; however, there are some guiding lights along the way. I want to selflessly serve others, whether that be through coaching, teaching, or just being with them. I want to strive for meaning and fulfillment in everything I do, recognizing that we all make mistakes, and at least until our time is up, never forget that we have unlimited “re-dos”. I want to be challenged, growing, and changing in alignment with life. I want to be at home in the uncertainty and unknown, exploring new lives and possibilities I have yet to imagine or discover. I want to be in deep connection with people, full of understanding and compassion while void of judgment. I want to be a light and touch people’s lives with warmth, joy, peace, and inspiration.

I want to be love in human form.


Judgment is pervasive throughout society and such a natural part of being human. It can be extremely helpful for certain things, such as when a decision needs to be made or in order to maintain peace, order, and civility. We also use it in numerous other ways, both consciously and unconsciously, that seem to be normal and helpful, such as

  • To develop personal preferences, likes & dislikes
  • In building or defining our self-concept
  • For organizing, prioritizing, and establishing frameworks that we use in life
  • To make ourselves feel better or criticize, berate, and tear ourselves down
  • To influence our actions, re-actions, responses, beliefs, and behavior

But to what extent does judging serve us?

Let’s start with a well known Taoist story…

There was a farmer whose horse ran away. That evening the neighbors gathered to commiserate with him since this was such bad luck. He said, “May be.” The next day the horse returned, but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbors came exclaiming at his good fortune. He said, “May be.” And then, the following day, his son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg.
Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy for the misfortune. He said, “May be.” The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of the broken leg the farmer’s son was rejected. When the neighbors came in to say how fortunately everything had turned out, he said, “May be.”

Source: Tao: The Watercourse Way, by Alan Watts

Life unfolds in ways we can’t predict, imagine, or understand, and often it’s not until we can look back on our journey that we’re able to make any sense of it. It’s as if there is a far greater intelligence than our own guiding each of us on our own unique journey, leading us through a vast array of circumstances, challenges, and opportunities. I’ve found that the more I insist on controlling life and judging vs. accepting what happens, the more hardship and difficulty I experience. If I can choose to accept what “is” at any given moment – albeit not always an easy thing to do, I feel more aligned with life and at ease. The greatest power and choice comes from seeing that I create my own suffering by needing life’s circumstances, experiences, and outcomes to be a certain way other than exactly what they are.

The implications of judgment can be quite far-reaching, as in this example:

Ignaz Semmelweis – Hand Washing Saves Lives (Lived 1818 to 1865)The story of Ignaz Semmelweis is tragic on a number of levels. Firstly, there are the women who died who shouldn’t have. In 1847 Semmelweis, who was an obstetrician, (a doctor specializing in childbirth) published evidence that when doctors washed their hands before examining or treating patients, the mortality rate for women in his birthing ward in Vienna, Austria, was greatly reduced.

In his hospital doctors were routinely examining diseased corpses in the mortuary, then attending women in childbirth without first washing their hands. In some months, as many as a third of the women in the birthing part of the hospital were dying!

Semmelweis could not explain why hand-washing was effective – he didn’t know about germs – he just saw that it worked and that patients no longer caught fevers and other diseases.

The second tragedy is that although Semmelweis cut death rates in his own hospital, his attempts to spread the word failed. Many people died because hand-washing was not made a routine part of hospital practice.

The third tragic part of the story took place in 1865. Semmelweis had become clinically depressed when his work was rejected and he had started behaving oddly. He was lured by another doctor into an insane asylum in Vienna. Realizing it was a trap, Semmelweis tried to get out, but was held and badly beaten by guards and placed in a straight-jacket. He died two weeks later, most likely from injuries he suffered during the beating.

With Semmelweis gone, the fourth tragedy is that his hospital got back to running ‘properly’ again, discarding his ‘crazy’ ideas. Mortality rates increased by a factor of six, but nobody cared.

Source: https://www.famousscientists.org/7-scientists-whose-ideas-were-rejected-during-their-lifetimes/

How is judgment impacting your life?

Take for example how I considered myself a “socially anxious” person for many years. I judged myself, my worth, and my ability to be interesting and of value to other people in various interactions. For the most part, I was not even conscious of this, instead over time leaning more and more on the label than my part in creating my experience and my reality. As a result, I avoided many social situations, kept silent, and did not step into my potential and authenticity in building and improving relationships and discovering opportunities and new possibilities for connection, collaboration, love, and contribution.

Whether it’s assuming something about another person based on a first impression, not giving thought to an idea because of where it comes from, choosing not to hear something or try something new because you already know everything there is to know, or listening to the voice inside your head telling you to play small because you are not good enough, capable enough, or resilient enough; the implications of each and every judgment we make, regardless of how small it may seem, affect all areas of our lives.

What might be possible if you chose to approach even one thing each day without judgment or preconceived notions, open to explore and discover a new reality and new possibilities? Where in your life might you be making judgments that are holding you back? Where do they come from? Have you questioned them recently? Might there be more to see or realize?

In Conclusion

While judging judgment is a slippery slope and every day we are all inclined to make numerous judgments about all sorts of things, with a wide array of outcomes, my hope is that we can all agree on three points:

  1. Judgment is not Truth.
  2. There is enormous potential with each and every judgment we make to construct limits or limitations on ourselves, our lives, and our world.
  3. These limits and limitations are almost always made up and are not facts or abiding truths.

What’s the alternative?

Curiosity. Openness. Beginner’s Mind. What wonders and possibilities might we discover when we come from a place of curiosity and non-judgment, and step into embracing the unknown?