Be a verb – and not a noun

I hate social events – especially in Thimphu because it is rarely about the event itself. It is more about “What should I wear for that?”, “Look what she is wearing!” Or “Or who is he with?”, or even “What car are you driving?”. Of course, I must give credit to my Tsangla natives. We care less of these things and more about having a great time – irrespective of the occasion.

I also avoid social gathering or visiting places in Thimphu because in this highly sophisticated city, firstly, people now greet you with a question, “Busy?” instead of kuzuzangpo. I can bet anything that no one in Bhutan is that busy unless he or she is a bee. Second, the uncomfortable question, “So, where do you work?”, which, again in a city that is dominated by power and privileges, this question implies that if you are not a civil servant, first of all, you are not doing much, or you are wasting your life, or you are also not a true citizen – or all three.

While this second question may sound inconsequential it actually gaslights you into believing that you aren’t doing much if you are not in the government – or have a fixed job. So, ever since I left the government service I have often asked the existential question, and questioned myself if I was playing the rolling stone that gathers no moss. 

The breakthrough came 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 about discovering the self.

“Be a verb, and not a noun”, he said. 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. Nouns are static while verbs are dynamic. A verb gets you into doing. A noun often keeps you where you are. Hence, instead of saying that I am a writer, engineer, researcher, or a teacher, I just write, build, conduct research, and teach. There is a greater joy in doing, than in being.

I like building stuff. In fact not a day goes by that I don’t look for one of my tools. I do creative writing. Some I publish on my blog or my social media handles regularly. I like taking pictures, some of which I post on Instagram. I never claim to be a serious Buddhust but I practise compassion and community. And I teach communication, and cultural studies. 

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. But I don’t claim to be a Vajrayana practitioner . 

There is science – and not just opinions

It seems there is psychological theory behind labelling others, and ourselves. It is done because it makes our brain feel safe. However, it is not good, as writer Austin Kleon adds:

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). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting than just wanting the noun.

This last line by Kleon is again backed by science.

According to the principle of linguistic determinism – a sociological perspective that stipulates that the language you speak determines who you are or what you become, the personal attributes of of just “being” or of “doing” may determine whether you are “successful” or not, and whether your life is fulfilling one – or one that is a waste.

The choice is only yours to make