Be a verb. Not a noun

I refrain from going to social events in Thimphu because it is a highly sophisticated city. People now greet you with a question, “Busy?” instead of kuzuzangpo. I am never busy. And, I guess, no one is in Bhutan except for the bees.**

More importantly, I avoid going around because of a very uncomfortable question I face: “Where do you work?”, which means what are you? First, I do many things to point out just one work. Second, in a city that is dominated by power and privileges, this question also implies that if you are not in the government service, you are of less value, or you are not serving your country – or a combination of both. As a matter of fact, many non-civil servant youth will even respond, “I am not working,” if they are not in the government.

While you can shrug off the topic as nonsensical, it actually gaslights you into believing that you aren’t doing much with life. In fact, ever since I left the government service I have often asked that existential question, and even pondered deeply if I was really playing the rolling stone that gathers no moss by moving too much.

I was in an eternal dilemma.

My moment of enlightentment, however, came through in 2019 while attending a wellbeing retreat in Bali in Indonesia. There, my good friend, Ron Elison (PhD), a professor-psychiatrist from University of California at Berkeley, was speaking on the topic of discovering one’s true self.

“Be a verb, and not a noun”, he said, somewhere in his hour-long talk. And went on to explain the difference.

I was like, “Wow! That’s me. I am a verb.” 

Life is about doing. Not about being.

A verb describes an action, or an experience, such as “feel”, “run”, or “do”, while a noun only refers to a thing like a table, cat, or chair.

While saying, “I am a teacher” or “I teach” may sound similar, there is a difference. Being a verb is to be dynamic and action-oriented, while nouns are static and role-focussed.

For example, when you say, “I am the CEO,” your focus is yourself. But when you say, “I lead a company”, or better still, “I provide leadership to my team”, you are action-driven. Your focus is your people. Furthermore, a verb gets you into doing mode. If you think that your role is to lead or provide leadership, you will be motivated to do it.

As you verb your life along, you will soon discover that there is simply a greater joy in “doing” than in “being”. Although I resigned being an engineer in 2002, I still like building stuff. In fact not a day goes by that I don’t look for one of my tools. I love storytelling and taking pictures. I publish some on my blog or on my social media handles, but I don’t claim to be a writer. I like to learn new things and I went back to school at 49 and earned my second advanced degree, and now I teach another field: communication, social science and traditional wisdoms. 

I am not a public servant but I serve rural communities by being there for them when they need. I helped build three temples as a social space in two far-flung villages of Rukha and Lamga – both in Wangdue Dzongkhag ( I am from Trashigang). I don’t say that I am a Buddhist. I just practise loving kindness and compassion (core Mahayana teachings) everytime an opportunity arises. These days I am helping organise Phurpa Drubchen (Vajrakilaya rituals) in Zhemgang to see off the Year of the Tiger and welcome the Year of the Rabbit. Hard-core Vajrayana practioner? Na! I am just verb-ing away my life.

There is science behind

There is something called linguistic determinism – a sociological perspective that stipulates that the vocabularies you use determine who you are or what you become. A Stanford professor suggests that people who use more “but” when talking were less successful in life because they get less things done. E.g. I want to do this, but…. I want to help you, but…

In our case, the way you self-identify yourself as just “being” or “doing” will also define whether or not your life will be a fulfilling one.

Of course, labelling others, and ourselves, makes our brain feel safe. Or so some psychologists would say. It has its positive sides too. For instance, if you are walking in a jungle at night and see a dark figure, you will panic. But if your friend tells you that is a bush, you feel reassured. It is nature’s way to keep us calm.

Nonetheless, using nouns is not how one should identify oneself. Labelling is self-defeating, as writer Austin Kleon notes:

Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work.

Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb).

Therefore, don’t be just a teacher, but teach and inspire your pupils. Do try to be a writer. Just write! Don’t say you are a civil servant. Serve the public. Make a difference in someone’s life. And, don’t look for a job. Look to work.

Being a verb will surely take you far and to more interesting places than just being a noun, because, a rolling stone gathers more moss.



* In western cultures (Australia included), you have more chance to land a job, or a scholarship, if you use verbs when you describe your resume’. E.g. instead of saying, “I was the media director”, you say, “I led the strategic communication team for this or that event”. Always action words to describe yourself and your achievements. Another example: I never say, “I was the chief engineer of BBS”, but I say, “I brought TV into Bhutan in 1999”. And people go, “Wow!”

** When my friends, who are heading government departments, and corporations, say they are busy, I tell them, “You are not busy. You are stupid.”

I spent much of my youth learning science and technology. Now I am learning about our culture, traditions and spirituality
We are the self-appointed wisdom keepers of the world – from 4 different cultures living in 5 different countries

9 thoughts on “Be a verb. Not a noun

  1. Dechen

    Dr. We need the 3 things to survive in Bhutan:
    1. Ka sho from HM;
    2. He/She needs to be related to Dashos’ ; and
    3. We must utter “Laso” always


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