The Difference Between How to Do and How to Be

I wrote an answer on Quora.com in 2018 to a question asked by a young adult who didn't know what kind of career he wanted.

I had forgotten about it. Until recently, I received an email update letting me know that someone has upvoted my answer. I thought, maybe this is the theme I should write about and share with you.

As much as about moving forward purposefully, Coddiwomple journey is a process of unlearning. To be, do and live differently, we need to uncover our own unconscious assumptions about the world and how we should be.

The answer once I gave to a 23-year-old now works as reminder for me. And if you are on a coddiwomple journey, this is for you too.


I am 23 and I still don't know what kind of career I want. What should I do?


All you need is to unlearn what you have learned for the last 18 years.

From a very young age, you were raised to follow other people's agenda of achievement. From grade 1 to university, there was a set of criteria that, if you follow well, you will succeed. The so called criteria, curriculum, methodology had been tested and worked to equip people to contribute to the economy and society.

You knew exactly where you would go next; from grade 1 to grade 2 ...to high school, then like everybody else to University or College. It was predictable and safe. From what you knew, it prepared you for your bright future.

Then the future came. But wait! Where was the curriculum for this? Which system should I follow? Which one guaranteed me a success? Which one was the most proven and tested? Which one was suitable for me? And finally, you got into deeper questions; which one should I choose? Did I even know what I wanted?

By that time, you were confused and clueless. Even if you knew what you wanted, the path in front of you was terrifying because where you would end up was unknown.

Over our formative years, we were taught how to do, not how to be. We were taught the known, not the unknown.

No wonder we are so attracted to books, blog posts, courses with bombastic titles. Seven ways to achieve happiness; three ways of guaranteed weight loss, the big secret to awakening your super power. We are drawn to a systematic, well-proven success, step by step way of doing things. We are taught the result is what matters.

That is how our brain neurons are wired. It craves a good system and high predictability. That is what we know the best, and it feels safe.

But how many times we repeatedly try to apply these success formulas and failed. Why? Because we are using our 'how to do' skill for finding the 'how to be' answer.

When our brain, which is familiar with the known and safe, suddenly faces the unknown, it starts with what it knows best, turning on the flight and fight mode. The same mode has kept our species survive on this planet from the stone age to now when facing life-threatening events.

It requires us to set ourselves free from the mold that shapes the way we operate. As Marianne Williamson said, "You must learn a new way to think before you can master a new way to be."

It requires us to seek inside and not to compare with the outside; to stop thinking about what it will be like before we start and while we are doing it.

In a time dimension, it means to focus on the now. Not on the past or the future – As the root of anxiety is our constant attention split between the now and the future.

It means bringing both feet and mind together toward the same direction and embrace the adventure that comes along the way, knowing we have the tools we need to overcome any challenges we face. When we take it one at a time, it is pretty easy to handle.

Whatever path you take, as long as you are moving forward, it will lead to another path. Nothing is permanent; even a failure is not. As Tony Robbins said, "It is a decision that makes your life."

No guru, expert, school can teach you how to be you. The best way to learn and find the answer is to be yourself. Unlike going to school or moving towards a goal, there is no end destination in self discovery, for learning to be yourself is an unfolding journey of self expansion.

I'll end this post with a couple of quotes:

'One sees clearly only with the heart, what is essentially invisible to the eye'

Little Prince book.

'But the future is still not here and cannot become a part of experienced reality until it is present. Since what we know of the future is made up of purely abstract and logical elements — inferences, guesses, deductions — it cannot be eaten, felt, smelled, seen, heard, or otherwise enjoyed. To pursue it is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all the affairs of civilization are rushed, why hardly anyone enjoys what he has, and is forever seeking more and more. Happiness, then, will consist, not of solid and substantial realities, but of such abstract and superficial things as promises, hopes, and assurances.'

Allan Watts from his book The Wisdom of Insecurity.


  • Which part of this post does speak to you the most and invite you to explore more within?

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