3rd March 2017

Human Beings Versus Human Doings

How often do you come into the office, checked your email, feel instantly overwhelmed by your inbox full of tasks and to-dos, and then navigate right to social media to search #lifehack for a quick fix to help you to manage – or maybe just get through – the day?

We are inundated with a revolving door of the latest and greatest strategies to help us improve our individual and organizational productivity. Each is designed to help us achieve more by improving the efficiency of our production – output, output, output. How did we get here?

We got here because we have succumbed to the pervasive and persuasive cultural message that says work should be about doing more while experiencing less. Yes, we are getting more done, and we have more technology tools than ever to help us speed up, streamline, and increase our output, but we’re also experiencing less joy, less happiness, less meaning.

How many nights have you arrived home, been asked what’s for dinner, and stared blindly back because you were so mentally exhausted you couldn’t make one more decision? How often has your child asked you to help her with their homework and when you take it from her outstretched hand the words or numbers begin to blur? How often have you logged back on at night, worked until the wee hours and then not recalled what emails you sent the next morning? How many cups of coffee do you need to get you through the day? You may have found myriad ways to cram more into your days, but at what cost?

The truth of the matter is this: We are human beings – not human doings. And as much as we can measure what we ‘do’, we cannot appropriately measure the intangible characteristics of being human – our passions, our calling, our intuition, that quiet yet powerful voice of our hearts.

There is another factor at work within the cult of busyness that is driving our myopic focus on output – how we define our own worth and value. As long as we are doing something, completing something, then we are valuable, needed and responsible employees, bosses, and leaders. Each day becomes a race to produce something because our self worth depends on our output.

How often does someone you meet for the first time immediately ask: What do you? Not, Where are you from? Do you have children? What do you enjoy doing for fun? What. Do. You. Do. This question is loaded – and it’s meant to be. The answer will immediately provide a slew of socioeconomic, status, and educational background for your new acquaintance. Which is one reason you probably are working so hard to grab the next rung on the proverbial ladder. Your job title is your literal and figurative calling card. But does your daily grind really encapsulate who you are, your fundamental humanity – your heart?

I had the privilege of attending the Hoffman Institute, a personal transformation retreat, in the Connecticut mountains two summers ago. As part of the workshop experience we were told to not ask our fellow participants what they did professionally, nor discuss any aspects of our professional lives. We were encouraged to focus our conversations on who we were as human beings – why we were at the retreat, what we were learning and experiencing, and to wholeheartedly share our fears, anxieties, and uncertainties about sustaining our new habits when we returned “to the real world”. We were asked to be vulnerable, authentic and unapologetically ourselves.

This was at the outset a deeply terrifying experience for me. I often hid behind my work, my “success,” and being busy. As I pushed through the fear, however, I felt liberated and able to connect with my fellow participants in a deeply personal, authentic way. I knew who my participants were as human beings. So, when on the last day of the retreat we stood up and shared what we did professionally (CEOs, venture capitalists, film makers, attorneys, accountants, and consultants), I was interested, of course, but their work did not define who they were.

When the sole focus of our work is on output we pay a price – as individuals and as organizations. That cost is innovation, creativity, and problem solving, each of which is essential for sustained company financial performance. But by aligning people and performance management to output, employees are reduced to automatons – ignoring that it is their whole humanity – both the head and the heart – that ignites the creative spark which leads to innovation. It is human beings, motivated by the drive to do something because it is interesting, exciting, and/or personally challenging, who create, invent and solve problems, not human doings.

Because work is not just something we do. Work is an expression of who we are.

Go ahead: enlist your heart into your professional life. I promise, it will change the way you work – the way you impact the world.