why purpose has nothing to do with what you “do”

BeingPurposeVsDoingPurposeAs I have mentioned before, there are three levels to success, having, doing, and being. According to Power Vs. Force, these three levels look like this:


The ladder of success seems to have three main steps: 

(1) Initially, it’s what one “has” that counts – that is, status depends upon visible signs of material wealth.

(2) As one progresses, status is afforded by what one “does,” rather than what one has – at this level on the ladder, one’s position and activities bring significant social status, but the attraction of social roles loses glamour as one achieves mastery and matures, for it’s what one has accomplished that is important.

(3) And finally, one is concerned only with what one has “become” as a result of life’s experiences – such people have a charismatic “presence” that is the outer manifestation of the grace of their inner power.


Lately,  I have noticed a general shift from the Having to Doing level of success. People are willing to forego the trappings of cushy paychecks or stable careers in order to Do something that is meaningful that might involve risk or humble beginnings.

However, there is a negative ego trap within this Doing level that is tripping a lot of people up. Sure, Doing is more enlightened than the sole pursuit of fame, money, power that comes with the Having level. But the quicksand of the Doing level is the fact that we almost inevitably end up placing our worthiness as a person on the things we Do.

Nothing could demonstrate this fact more than that all-too-common introduction, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you. So, what do you do?”

For those who might not know what they want to Do yet, it creates a huge sense of unease, fear, and unworthiness. 

“What if I never figure out what I’m supposed to Do?” is a paralyzing feeling that I sense from many graduating college students and uninspired corporate workers.

No longer are we just wanting to Have jobs that pay well and give us a nice lifestyle. Many people want to have a sense of fulfillment and purpose from their career, as well. They want to Do something meaningful. They want to Make a difference.

But I can tell you, I spun myself in circles trying to constantly increase my quantity of Do. My little service tracker was a fascinating example of Doing that completely failed.

We cannot get our sense of fulfillment from Doing because we will inevitably feel good for a little while… only to realize that we can never Do “enough” to keep our worthiness forever.

Trust me. I have spent the past eight months wrestling with this level and it doesn’t work. Over time, your ego will inevitably tell you that what you are doing is not enough. It will never be enough.

To break free from this level I had a mini-breakdown. I didn’t really graduate to Being… I simply surrendered from Doing.

And there is a reason that Doing never feels like enough – it is not what “purpose” truly means.

Our purpose is to love one another, serve each other, and share our gifts. 

That is it. End of story.

You might be a concert pianist. Or you might help people plan their weddings. Or, you might help work for a non-profit that brings water to third world countries. Or, you might clean houses.

There are no levels to Being. Big, flashy careers are just as meaningful as the unsexy ones. In fact, careers are completely irrelevant in Being. You never define yourself and your success in the Being realm by the thing that you Do. You define your success by how well you are Being of loving service.

No matter where you are in your career, that is all life ever asks you to Do. We invent any other purpose or desire that we think we “need” to Do in order for our egos to feel successful.

On the bright side, experiencing the level of Doing has some great advantages. First, it might be incredibly difficult to leap from Having to Being, without first going through Doing. Second, Doing allows you to overcome your ego’s resistance to hard work and risk. It helps build habits that will serve you in the Being stage. But Doing is simply a stop along the way to Being.

We are not meant to spend our lives validating our worth based on our output.

The most convincing argument you will hear from your ego, as you contemplate this shift in perception, is the thought that if you really moved on to Being, you would stop Doing anything of value. Without the drive to find meaning and worthiness in Doing, we might become lazy slobs who are friendly and loving, but ineffective.

I promise you, that will not happen. When we live from Being there is a lightness about life. There is an effortlessness that exists in the world when we follow our intuition and simply aim to serve wherever we may be needed in the present moment. Life gets simpler. New opportunities come our way.

Gandhi, Jesus, Buddha, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King Jr. did not stick around the level of Doing. They transcended to Being and literally made a world of difference.

You will still take action if you follow your gut and live in Being. I promise.

It is simply up to us to go through these stages and wrestle with our egos long enough that we eventually put down the Having and Doing and simply try, day by day, to Be.


photo shot by LLB Creative for JessLively.com

This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Lamisha Serf

    I love this post so much and can relate to the levels. I am not sure I ever rested in “having”as much as I have been perpetually stuck in the “doing” aspect of life. My goal is to continually move, inch-by-inch into more “being” where I can flow and be easy about life.

    1. Exactly! I haven’t felt like it’s been easy at all to leave Doing for Being. It is an inch by inch thing most days. : )

  2. keheinze

    What do you suggest we ask in conversation instead of ‘what do you do for a living?’ I always struggle with that.

    1. How about, “So, what do you *love* to do?” That still allows people to share their career if they are passionate about it, but otherwise, it is really about what gets them excited and enthusiastic and is not relegated to just their profession.

  3. This is extremely poignant, Jess. And as it happens, just wanted I needed to read today, so thank you for that. “Our purpose is to love one another, serve each other, and share our gifts” might be my favorite thing you’ve ever written.

    I find it fascinating that we ask “what do you do”. In the other (very few) other countries I’ve visited, people don’t ask that. I think that part of this is a very cultural issue. Many ask “What do you like to do in your free time” or “are you planning any holidays soon?”, or they ask about family. There is definitely something to be learned from that! My husband is great at avoiding the career conversation as well, and people always seem to want to talk extensively with him. I need to take a page out of that book!

    1. You are most welcome, Joy!

      I also love your point about other cultures. I think you are dead on, this might be extremely true here in the US in many places, but may not translate overseas in all cases.

  4. Love this so much Jess! Exactly what I needed to read today as I struggle to decide what I want to “do” with my life next.

    1. Aw, that is great to hear! Just ask you gut, “What should I do NOW?” And listen for the answer – literally in your gut. If you don’t hear anything, just keep doing what you are doing and stay open and ask the next day.

  5. I’m sort of reaching a point where telling people what I do (“Hi, I’m a life coach.”) doesn’t feel like enough. My purpose is help women put their happiness first and become more organized and excited about life than they’ve ever been. I would love to see more advice or scripts for what to say when people try to pull us out of Being by asking questions like “How much do you make/charge?” or “How many people are on your list?”

    1. Weird! I am sorry to hear you are getting such crazy specific questions. Maybe by saying ” I help women put their happiness first and become more organized and excited about life than they’ve ever been.” They might not get to the charging/list thing. You can let them know your prices and services are on your website and refer them there? As for the list, you can say, “It’s growing everyday, I’m not quite sure where it’s at at the moment?” … It may not be the best, but maybe that helps?

  6. Aw, thank you so much for your kind words! Yes, it is about daily setting our mind to the being of our days as much or more so than our doing.

  7. Alison Jefferies

    “We are not meant to spend our lives validating our worth based on our output.” Boy did I need to read that today!

    I definitely agree with you about the “shift” from Having to Doing. I think it may be partly due to the fact that so many of us raised in the 80s/90s were taught to try to make a big difference in the world and to follow our dreams – plus the fact that a secure job that guarantees means for Having isn’t a given anymore. I think we’re more willing to opt for the Doing than our parents because the Having was more attainable for them.

    I’m a newcomer to your site but I really appreciate your perspective. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Alison Jefferies

      It’s funny, I found that article about 5 minutes after writing that comment – I did enjoy it & thought it really fleshed out the idea! I think it’s really important for us to view this time in economic history as one of opportunity, and one in which we can reinvent the system to work for us rather than lamenting the failure of the old way of doing things. There is so much opportunity!

      Also, I totally didn’t mean to post that picture of myself in the body of the original comment- I meant to put it as my thumbnail pic for my Disqus profile. Sorry about that!

      1. I totally agree! It is a huge opportunity, if we choose to embrace it as such.

        No worries on the pic, you are a pretty lady! : ) Have a great weekend.

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