When I was a congregational rabbi, one of my primary duties was to comfort the dying, and one of the services I would offer was confessional. From religious Jews to devout Catholics, secular Atheists to spiritual seekers, it was almost always filled with similar confessions.
“I wish I would have done this, or not done that.”
“I should have pursued this path or that passion.”
“If I could go back, I would have been less angry and more loving.”
However, something I never, ever heard is best summed up by Rabbi Harold Kushner: “No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’”
It is true. Nobody I have ever shared this with, not even the Hedge Fund managers, the surgeons, nor the Silicon Valley serial entrepreneurs, have challenged this. No one!
We know this.
We get this.
Yet, very, very few of us live up to this. Sure, we say it, but the truth is, most of us spend way too much time in the office. I know I do.
Look, it’s hard not to. It was hard enough before cell phones and laptops. It is virtually impossible in our post-Covid, always connected, commute from the bedroom to the home office and show up on your Zoom call dressed only from the waist up (or is that just me?) reality.
Today, home is no longer home. Work is everywhere you have a cell signal. And we are, as it has been said, human doings not human beings. Make no mistake about it, all this doing comes with a price.
I see the price every day in guiding some of the most outwardly successful men and women, people at the peak of their careers and the height of their lives, who simply can’t shut it down. They want to. They know they need to, but they don’t, won’t–or worse yet–can’t.
Even with the negative physical, mental, emotional, and relationship consequences of this, in my opinion, the heftiest price of all is the spiritual toll this takes.
After all, in the end, all we really have and truly own is our free will, power to choose, and ability to respond to our circumstances and not to become enslaved by them. This is a gift; the true definition of freedom. Yet, anyone who has gotten caught up in the human-doing-work-rut, as I have, knows that when we are in it, we are anything but free.
I don’t care how much power you wield in your profession or how much money you have in the bank, you feel anything but free. You become a victim of your success. The higher you climb, the more is expected of you, and those of us ladder climbers know that no one expects more of us than ourselves. The doing never ends. There is simply always more to do on the list, it’s never enough and worse yet, we are never enough. When we are doing, we are worthy. When we stop doing, we start to question our worth. The curse of human doing is that it becomes impossible to not do; it becomes impossible to just be.
We can’t sit still.
We can’t stop checking our emails.
We can’t be fully present with our loved ones.
We feel trapped, enslaved and eventually, it feels meaningless.
As the saying goes, “I climbed the ladder of success only to discover, it was leaning against the wrong wall.”
Simply put, in all the doing, we have stopped being and forfeited our true power: the power to choose. Ultimately, we are anything but free–free not to do; free to just be.
However, there is a way back to being free, to take back your power to choose your path, to respond to your circumstances, to stop doing and start being. As my mentor, Dr. Viktor Frankl taught, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”
We need to…
- Choose to stop reacting to all the stimuli and start responding to our life.
- Choose to find some space, create some space, take some space, and get clear about what we’re doing. Get committed to what we’re not going to do.
- Choose to sit, to get still, and to get comfortable with not doing–just being.
- Choose to look forward and imagine the day when we will be upon our deathbed and ask ourselves what we will regret–and it won’t be not spending enough time in the office.
Above all else, choose to return to who we are, what we are, and why we are here. We are not here to be human doings–not to do more, or produce more or become more. We are here to be human beings–to be present, to be enough, to be free. So take back your power and choose to let go of your human doing and return to your human being–being human, being present, and being free.