I recently came across this thought-provoking paragraph from the English actor, comedian, and writer Stephen Fry, while browsing a notebook I had scribbled thoughts in some years ago –
Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it. That is your punishment. But if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing — an actor, a writer — I am a person who does things — I write, I act — and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.
~ Stephen Fry
The exact Wilde quote to which Fry was referring is this –
If you want to be a grocer, or a general, or a politician, or a judge, you will invariably become it; that is your punishment. If you never know what you want to be, if you live what some might call the dynamic life — but what I will call the artistic life — if each day you are unsure of who you are and what you know you will never become anything, and that is your reward.”
~ Oscar Wilde
A little English brush up here – ‘Noun’ is a word that names something: either a person, place, or thing. ‘Verb’ is a word that shows an action (sing), occurrence (develop), or state of being (exist).
Being a parent, I could instantly relate to these thoughts from Fry and Wilde on a personal level.
We wish for our kids, sometimes forcibly, to become ‘nouns’ – doctors, engineers, coders, and at rare times, cartoonists. And in such a pursuit, we forget that, like us, they too are ‘verbs’ – always evolving, always work-in-progress – and often do not let them find joy in whatever they are ‘doing’ – like dancing, painting, and sometimes just doing ‘nothing.’
We treat ourselves the same way.
When someone asks us, “What do you do for a living?” we often reply with nouns such as writer, blogger, teacher, investor, software engineer, etc. We rarely say, “I write code,” or, “I write.”
But to go with what Wilde said, and something that makes real sense, we are not nouns, but verbs.
Only if we can allow us to give ourselves permission to ‘do’ what brings us the greatest joy – except, say, getting involved in drugs etc. – we will find the satisfaction we are looking for.
Even if we define ourselves a particular way – consultant, doctor, investor, teacher, actor, writer, scientist – what will lead us to a fulfilling life isn’t the noun we use for us, but the verbs we are – the growing, learning, and pursuing that happens in the process.
In his book, I Seem To Be A Verb, R. Buckminster Fuller wrote this beautiful thing –
I live on Earth at the present,
and I don’t know what I am.
I know that I am not a category.
I am not a thing – a noun.
I seem to be a verb,
an evolutionary process –
an integral function of the universe.
One of my favourite persons who blogs, Austin Kleon, wrote in his post –
So many people think you have to first call yourself an artist, know who you are and what you’re about, and then you can start making art. No, no, no. You do the stuff first, then you can worry about what it is, who you are. The important thing is the practice. The doing. The verb.
We aren’t nouns, we are verbs. Forget the nouns, do the verbs.
And then this is what I read of Osho –
Life is a verb. Life is not a noun, it is really “living” not “life.” It is not love, it is loving. It is not relationship, it is relating. It is not a song, it is singing. It is not a dance, it is dancing. See the difference, savor the difference.
When our efforts go unacknowledged, we feel frustrated and invisible. We start doubting our efforts because no one notices it.
But then, as the Stoics advise, just doing the work is enough.
Life is, after all, about doing – action, verb – not so much about becoming – noun.
That’s about it from me for today.
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