A New Year’s Resolution: “To Be” Instead of “To Do”

Marc D. Kirshbaum

© 2015 

I am the king of lists. It started at a very young age as my father encouraged me to always “write it down.” It was such an engrained regimen as a kid that the salt and pepper shakers on the kitchen table were more often used as paperweights for our to do lists than to flavor our food.

For this, I am grateful. It taught me how to keep track of what needs to get done, learn how to manage my time effectively, and also allow me to feel the great sense of accomplishment when I got to cross something off the list as it was completed.

Leveraging the gift

I have carried this gift with me my entire life – both literally and figuratively. In fact, it is quite common for me to have two or three pieces of paper in my pocket with lists of things to do in business and in my personal life, as well as additional digital lists that are kept on my iPhone.

I have also maintained and used lists as running agendas for my one-on-one meetings with team members in businesses I have operated. When we meet, I bring out my list and they bring out their list, and we then prioritize across both lists to make sure we cover in the time we have what is most pressing for the business. 

At home, my children have been somewhat receptive to the concept – without the salt and pepper shakers. My older daughter has a fashionable white board in her room that she uses to keep track of things she needs to do, along with using the reminders app on her iPhone. She likes the app because she can set a location-based reminder that goes off when she arrives at school or at home. 

When it comes to my to do lists, my daily routine hadn’t changed for years. I would pull the lists out of my back pocket at the end of the day and place them next to my keys and wallet so as to not forget to start the next day with my lists. Before going to sleep I would look to see what was crossed out and what was not. I would evaluate the meaningfulness and productivity of my day based upon a review of what was crossed off the list versus what had not yet been done.

The transformation

However, at a certain point in my early forties I remember taking my to do list out of my pocket when getting ready for bed and all of a sudden the list looked like a blank piece of paper. I tried but I couldn’t conjure up that feeling of accomplishment and instead had an empty feeling. As I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror it was at this time that I had a realization: 

The measurement of whether I had a meaningful day was no longer what did I "do" but rather was I the person I wanted to “be” today?

My mind immediately went to the phrase I had created years prior to succinctly state what I believe to be my purpose in life: to create, inspire and be a part of special moments.

I combined this realization about “being” instead of “doing” with my purpose and it led to a different line of questions at the end of the day:

Did I feel fulfilled when I looked in the mirror?

Regardless of progress on my to do list, was I purposeful today?

What were the special moments that I created, inspired and was a part of today?

Did my interactions with others lift them up and leave them with a positive feeling that make their day better?

If I answered these questions in the positive, then I knew that I had met my new definition of a productive day.

I also take the opportunity to evaluate whether I have successfully used the energy and time given to me each day I am alive to build and create instead of tear down and destroy. After all, every time the words “I’m sorry” are uttered after a less than positive interaction is an opportunity to reflect and ask what could have been done differently to avoid the need to say “I’m sorry” in the first place. 

I remember a few years ago when I was literally being yelled at by someone in my community in connection with a project I was leading as a volunteer. He insisted on criticizing the project in an unconstructive and selfish manner. I shared with him my belief that each day we wake up it is a gift and an opportunity to choose whether we are going to spend our energy that day building or destroying. I proceeded to tell him that he had quite obviously made his choice at that moment to tear down and destroy, and that perhaps the next day he would choose differently. He was left speechless and we have had a respectful, cordial relationship ever since.

A work in progress

Increasing the level of “being” is a continuous work in progress. I have to remember to slow down from time to time and balance the “doing” with the “being” so I can be more present. I also continue to work on improving my interactions with others.



“You don’t plan a legacy, you do what you’re passionate about, what truly makes a difference. [That] is the best anyone can do."


Eli Broad in an interview for Architectural Digest (August 2015)


Don’t get me wrong. To this day I swear by my to do lists to keep me organized and to remember what I need to do. Over time, however, I have transformed into a happier, more fulfilled person by looking inward at who I am as my primary source of satisfaction and joy. 

According to a Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” As the new year approaches and we reflect on the year we are completing as well as plan for the year we are about to begin, may we take the time to look in the mirror a bit more to ensure that we are being the people we want to be in a manner that makes the world a better place.

What is your purpose in life and what inspires you every day? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below so I can be inspired by you.