What you DO is NOT who you are

Do you want this? Which one?

I love this little story. I think you will too:

Keichu, (1640-1701) the great Zen teacher of the Meiji era was the head of Tofuku, an important temple in Kyoto. One day, Kitigaki, the governor of Kyoto decided to visit him, and announced himself by presenting his business card to Keichu’s attendant:



When the attendant presented the card of the governor to his master, Keichu exclaimed:

“I have no business with such a fellow. Tell him to go away.”

The attendant carried the card back to the governor with apologies.

“Of course! That was my error! said the governor, who then took a pencil and crossed out the words “Governor of Kyoto” leaving only his name. “Would you kindly present my card to him once again?

“Oh, is that Kitigaki?” said the teacher. “I really want to see that fellow.” Show him in right away.”

Most of us, unfortunately, wrap too much of our identities around what we do, instead of who we are:

“Hello, my name is Joe, and I’m a………..” It’s bad enough if we present ourselves to the world that way, but even worse if we present ourselves to ourselves that way.

I reckon it’s due to the unfortunately close association between our occupations and that very problematic word “success”, and its meaning in this culture.

“Success” as a concept, is measureable and observable by others. Not always, but too often, its goal seems to be to produce ever more of something – money, awards, fame, possessions…whatever – but mostly that which others see. It requires actions which maintain “me”… my self-image…my social identity. At the same time, our pursuit of “success” also frequently disguises our wish to manage and reduce assorted fears: “Oh, nobody will love/respect/approve of me unless I ‘succeed'”; or, “If I don’t ‘succeed’ I’ll be letting my parents down”; or, “If I don’t pile up just a little more cash I’ll die in penury”; or….

“Fulfillment” on the other hand: is observable only by me. It’s “experienced” rather than “gotten”. Its goal is not what others see, but what YOU see –  and feel. It “fills” you up instead of leaving you hungry.

So, which of these do you want?

Practice Tip:

The next time you are introduced to someone, instead of the usual second question: “what do you do?” (right after “where do you live?”), ask: “What is your favorite ever book? Movie? What was your best ever vacation? Which person or event in your life has most inspired you…why? What would a perfect day look like for you?” Or…

Try it!  See whether you don’t have a way livelier conversation.

Dear Reader, I’m going to be traveling for a month or so, so I won’t be able to post. I’ll miss you a lot and will be back with you in February. Meanwhile…

Please be kind to yourself.



About Michael Scott

Michael Scott is a life coach, author and teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. After spending 35 years in business - coaching found him - and he's never looked back. Michael uses his coaching training and experience, in the service of his clients, as their constant and loving guide towards joyous, fulfilling lives which are genuinely their own. He lives with his dear wife in Sausalito, CA.

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