To Be or To Do?

Post inspired from: Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.

Which do you want: to be somebody or to do something?

This morning’s chapter of Ego is the Enemy posed a solid question - to be or to do? This quote comes from John Boyd, a colonel in the Air Force where he posed it to his students and officers. “To be somebody or to do something. In life there is often a roll call. That’s when you have to make a decision” - John Boyd (31).

Ryan Holiday, author of Ego is the Enemy, paints this picture for us: to be somebody is easy - what matters is you, your reputation, inclusion, etc. To be somebody is a easier path - you focus on talking, climbing the corporate ladder, following the path that others before you have made, “pay your dues, check your boxes…and leave things essentially as they are” (33). Or, you can do something. If your purpose in life is something greater than being somebody, to prove something to yourself, then the path forward is different. It may be easier in the sense that you don’t have to compromise on yourself because you know what your purpose is. You are working on the action, not working on a reputation. But, it will be harder because the opportunities and decisions ahead of you are then “evaluated along strict guidelines” (34). When you are working towards a purpose, the questions then become deeper and harder. Will this help me? Does this enable progress or push me back? In the words of Jocko Willink, is this poison for me? The questions shift from “who” to “what”. No longer “who do I want to be” but instead “what do I want to accomplish”. The ego pushes for the “who” - the reputation, the attention, the talk - but if your purpose is higher than the reputation, the attention, and the talk, then the ego is the enemy and must be set aside.