BE DO HAVE: Wisdom of the 70’s deserves another look.

If you go to any motivational speaking events you’ve probably heard some version of the BE/DO/HAVE parable. Werner Erhard made it part of his original curriculum for the EST training, and it’s been firmly implanted in the self-help and motivational literature ever since.


Even though BE -DO – HAVE is from the self-help world of the 70’s, it still holds up today. It’s well worth repeating, even if you’ve already heard it.


Maybe you’ll find it helpful as I do.


BE/DO/HAVE is really shorthand for how we think about our goals and how we go about achieving them. And it exposes an essential fallacy in our thinking that really holds us back from getting what we want.


A good friend of mine is a very successful actor in Los Angeles, and he wants to transition from acting into coaching and motivational speaking. He wants to have an impact on people and use his experience as a black actor in Hollywood to help and motivate others as they struggle with life challenges.


But he’s stuck because he feels he has to have a degree in psychology before he can be taken seriously as a counselor or speaker.


He’s fallen into a common trap. He’s got BE/DO/HAVE in the wrong order.


See, my friend feels he has to HAVE a degree in order to DO the things he wants to do (speak, coach, counsel) so that he can BE the thing he wants to be (a person who helps other people reach their goals and makes a difference in their lives).


And so he’s stuck. With this template, he can’t progress until he does the first step– getting a degree. And that’s a pretty daunting obstacle.


But what if he’s got the order wrong?


The brilliance of reversing the traditional way we think about goals is that you don’t have to wait to start doing the thing you want to do, or being the person you want to be. My friend is already being a force for change and healing in his everyday life. He’s a great listener. He’s a great motivator. He has a huge amount of experience and compassion. And he gives great advice. He’s already BEING the thing he wants to be right now. He just doesn’t believe it “counts” because he doesn’t HAVE the thing he needs to DO the thing he’s actually already doing.


Once you start BEING who you want to be—and owning it– you may well find that you don’t even need the stuff you thought you had to have before you could do it.


Take weight for example.


I’ve asked a lot of people in my life why they wanted to lose weight. Almost always, there’s an “in order to” in their answer. Keep digging, and you’ll almost get to some version of this: I need to HAVE a great diet, so I can DO what I need to do to lose weight IN ORDER TO… (feel sexy, find love, like myself better, fill in the blank).


I’ve also found that the majority of these people think that feeling sexy, finding love and liking themselves better can’t happen until they’ve first done the first two steps (HAVE a good weight loss program and DO it successfully). Only then could they really BE the sexy, lovable, self-accepting person they want to BE.


What if they were wrong?


What if you could be that sexy, self-accepting, lovable person… RIGHT NOW… at whatever weight you happen to be today?


Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for self-improvement and growth in all areas of our lives. But I also think there’s a lot to be said for doing an end-run around all the “conditions” and “obstacles” we put in front of ourselves. Instead of putting ourselves through all that shit, why not try BEING what we want to be right now?


Remember, life doesn’t give you extra points for postponing joy.



Here’s a true story. Many years ago, I was sitting in a Broadway theatre on opening night. I no longer remember what show I was seeing, but I remember what happened like it was yesterday. The lights were dimming and the show was about to start. All of a sudden, a woman entered the theatre looking for her seat.


In her wake, was a wave of electricity.


I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this before, but some people have an energy about them that literally compels you to look at them. There’s something so electric, so … “other worldly” about them, that even if you have no idea who they are you know immediately that they have … something. I’ve experienced this a couple of other times, once in the presence of the legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein, whose energy you could feel across a room, and once in the presence of the Bee Gees. It’s a kind of “who was that masked man??” feeling, a sensation you couldn’t describe but that told you someone electrifying had entered the room, and you knew it even before you had any idea who it was.


That’s what happened to me when this woman entered the theatre.


She certainly didn’t look like the typical “sex symbols” of the 90’s. By the standards of the day, she was a “big” woman. But I remember thinking she was one of the most beautiful and sexy women I had ever seen. It wasn’t just her elegance, and it wasn’t just her grace. It was her quiet confidence. This was a woman who already KNEW she was the sexiest person in the room, and didn’t have to do a thing to prove it to you. She radiated confidence, humor, sexiness and beauty and it all came from within, where it can’t be faked.


She was positively electric.


Did I mention that she was about a size 16?


Did I mention that absolutely no one gave a shit?


I found out later who the mysterious woman was. Her name was Emme, and she was the first “full figured” model to ever be chosen for People magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People issue.


No one told Emme she had to be skinny in order to be beautiful. No one told her she needed to lose weight in order to be sexy. (If they did, she forgot to listen. Brava.)


She just decided to BE who she wanted to be– even though, according to the rest of the world, she didn’t have any of the attributes one “needed” to be beautiful—like a size zero body with no bodyfat– to BE sexy, beautiful, confident and dynamic.


What do you think you need to have to become the person you really want to be? What do you think you need to DO to be the person you really want to be?


Maybe—just maybe—the answer should be “nothing”.


That’s because—like Emme– you already have it.


But unlike Emme, you haven’t yet owned it.


Maybe it’s time.