Have-Do-Be or Be-Do-Have? That is the question!


Have you ever thought about what defines who you are? Why do we do things in a certain way? Why are some of us spenders? Why do some of us have a candid ability to find a high savings rate no matter what our incomes are? We are who we are today because of our past experience, past successes, and past failures. We are creature of habits, our past experience governs how we view things and how we make decisions in the future.

We are who we are today because we learn from our past. We base our decisions on things that we learned in the past. If there's something new that we're not familiar with, we immediately go through our past experience and try to find something similar and apply the same decision or approach that we did in the past. If our past approach or decision led us to a failure, we would apply a different approach, hoping to end up with a better outcome. Learning from our past is an excellent approach if we do indeed learn from it. Unfortunately, from time to time we end up repeating our own history and not learning from our past. So we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. Our past experience also develop our habits, whether good or bad ones. Our decision making, habits, logical approach to things, all decide who we are.

From a personal finance point of view, this is why some of us are spenders and some of us are savers. It is also why some of us are conservative with our investment strategies while some of us are aggressive with our investment strategies. It is also why some of us have a clear view to retirement planning, yet some of us are muddy when it comes to that topic. All our past experiences, past successes, and past failures all help defining how we view things in our lives.


What happens if we do not have a past?

Imagine who you are right now at this very moment. What would you do if you're defined by who you are right now? Imagine that you still have all the knowledge that you have accumulated in your lifetime so far but without having any past experience, past judgments, past belief system, and past limitations. What would you do differently tomorrow? None of your decision or belief system will be based on your past experience. You will base all your decisions on your current belief system. You'll be living as if you're a new person without any past.

Given this new opportunity, what would you do about your personal finances? What would you do with your retirement planning or financial independence journey? Does this fresh and new outlook greatly change how you view your future?

Perhaps you are no longer tied to the idea that you need to work until 65 or later before you can retire.

Perhaps you are no longer afraid to start a business and become an entrepreneur.

Perhaps you will no longer see investing in the stock markets as a gamble.

Perhaps you no longer believe that you need to work your way up the corporate ladder.

Perhaps you will develop a sound investment strategy and be successful in executing the strategy.

Perhaps you will learn to be appreciative of life and value quality time with friends and family.

Perhaps you will start a budget system.

Perhaps you will appreciate the finer things in life and stop worrying about the small things.

Perhaps you will be not be afraid to take some calculated risk occasionally.

Perhaps you will understand what makes you happy and content in life.

Perhaps you will start to pay yourself first.

Perhaps I....(fill in the blank).


Have -> Do -> Be

Unfortunately many of us fall into this fallacy. We are wired to believe that we need to have something first in order to do what we want to do, so we can be who we want to be (happy). This results in the need for a new laptop, a shiny new car, a new iPhone, extra money, or a bigger house. Everything we do can only start if we have a certain item first. We must attain these items or we cannot get to the next step.

Once we have the items that we think we need, we can go to the next step of doing what we want to do. The new laptop means that we can start our online business; the shiny new car means that we can now go to work, the new iPhone means that we can now keep in touch with friends; the extra money we have on the side means that we can finally go towards saving for retirement; that bigger house means that we can finally host friends or family for an extended stay in our house.

Once we can do what we want to do, we think this will lead us to happiness. Or so we think! This fallacy results in the endless cycle of acquiring things in order to achieve happiness. For example, we may feel depressed that we're turning 40 and that the world is crumbling down. So to solve this depressive feeling, we buy ourselves luxury sports cars to cheer up ourselves. Hence the term mid-life crisis toy. 🙂

We make excuses to ourselves that we cannot do something unless we own certain material things. We slap limitations on our forehead so that it is all we can see. All we can see are the limitations instead of the unlimited possibilities. Without the access to these "necessary" items, we feel that we can never be who we want to be in life. We're always going around in the roundabout and can never get out of it. Over time we lose our sense of contentment. We no longer have a clear sense of truth and we cannot differentiate between necessities and wants. We eventually become the mindless machine that purchase items not due to necessity bur rather habits and wants. The line between wants and needs begins to shift and soon enough we cannot clearly differentiate the two.

We spend most of our income trying to acquire things in order to achieve happiness. Don't have the money? Put it on the credit card and pay the minimum payment each month. Someone we know have a vacation home and seems successful? Why don't we copy exactly what they do by taking out a loan to purchase a vacation home that we can't afford? That will for sure make us happy, right?

In this life path, we are always chasing that next new shiny thing. We are comparing ourselves with our neighbours, friends, and strangers. We feel that we cannot do anything in life because we haven't accumulated sufficient things. So we continue the never-ending binge shopping and never really end up where we want to be.


Be -> Do -> Have

Instead of the Have -> Do -> Be path, what we really should be following in life is the Be -> Do -> Have path. To start with, we should be happy and content with ourselves right now at this moment. Happiness should not be externally driven. We need to be happy with ourselves and realize that other people or things cannot make us happy. Sure, people and things can give us a boost of a warm cuddly fuzzy feeling, but this doesn't create true happiness. We have the ultimate power of our own well being and how we feel. We should be in control over how we feel and not let external factors control how we feel. Once we are in a state of happiness, we are content with what we do in our lives. Be appreciative of who we are and how fortunate we are to still be alive today.

When we are happy and content with ourselves, this is when we can do what we want to do. Because we're already content with our lives, we are empowering and allowing ourselves to do things without judging ourselves or allowing others to judge us. Because our belief system has changed, we no longer fall for the "keeping up with the Joneses" fatuousness. We do things because we want to, not because we need to please others. Our actions are no longer governed by an end result, or trying to achieve something. We do things because we truly want to do something.

Because we no longer put emphasis on what we must have in order to achieve happiness, we feel abundance already, and things will appear into our lives automatically. When we can truly be ourselves, we can do anything we want in life and through that we can have anything that we need. Which in the end is really just peace and love.


The looking forward symptom

We are always "looking forward" to something. We look forward to Fridays; we look forward to weekends; we look forward to our next vacation. What we should do instead is be present and be appreciative of what we have now. How do you know that you'll still be alive 10 years from now, 1 year from now, 3 months from now, 2 weeks from now, or even tomorrow? We don't know this and we cannot be certain. It's a probability calculation when you think about it. If we are constantly looking forward to something, we begin to ignore what's going on in front of us. Have a little baby that needs his or her parents constantly? The parents probably are looking forward to this baby growing up and being more independent. But what the parents do not realize, is that this baby will not stay this little forever. The parents must cherish the special moments while the baby is small. Similarly, we may not appreciate spending time with our parents and looking forward to having our own time. But what we do not realize is that one day our parents will not be with us anymore. By then it will be too late for us to wish to spend more time with them.

When you ponder for a few minutes, it may become obvious that this forward looking symptom is the main contributor to stress. Stress is really something that comes from our minds. We feel stressed because we're looking toward the future and worrying about what’s going to happen. We, as humans, have a tendency to think too much about the future. In our heads, we think about what’s going to happen tomorrow, we think about what we need to do at work, we think about what tasks we need to complete, we think about who we need to talk to, and so on and so on. We are too busy looking forward into the future that we are ignoring what's in front of us and what's happening in our lives right at this moment.

I work in the high tech field so I have been dealing with extremely aggressive project schedules and face demanding customers on a daily basis. Many years ago I was constantly looking forward to the weekend, just so I don't have to deal with the chaos at work. During the weekend, I was too busy complaining about work. I would think about what's going to happen if I didn't answer customer's urgent emails. Would the project schedule be delayed? Would the customer give my manager an angry phone call because I didn't respond in a timely manner? While I enjoyed my job, I would worry about the different project deadlines and absolutely dreading talking to customers on our weekly calls. I was a miserable SOB before the call and by the end of the call I felt like the world was about to end. I was stressed out about work. Although I looked forward to the weekends or vacation, when I was away from work, I was constantly thinking about work, thinking about the what if's. I was not able to relax at all.

Instead of looking forward to the future, I learned to start practicing being present and living in the moment. I learned that I do need to consider and plan for the future but focus on what's happening right now.  I stopped thinking about the what if's and stopped thinking about the potential problems in the future. I stopped thinking about how my customers would react to my emails or how many emails I was going to see in my inbox each morning. I stopped thinking about the weekly calls with my customers. I was practice being present and living in the moment. When I started doing this, my stress level began to drop and I became a much happier person.

So instead of worrying about things in your head (they aren't real!!) all the time and be stressed out about it, give that all up and start living in the presence. Start enjoying the small things in life and cherish those precious moments like waking up in the morning feeling refreshed and still alive, giving your spouse or significant other a gentle kiss, seeing your kid(s) smiling at you, or having an awesome conversation with your co-workers.


Learn from your past but do not let your past govern your future life. Follow the Be -> Do -> Have path. And most importantly, live in the moment, be present, and do consider and plan for the future.


Are you present right now as you are reading this post? 🙂

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  • Reply
    May 28, 2015 at 10:29 pm

    Thank you for the kind reminder Tawcan, sometimes I tend to focus on looking forward on making money on achieving FI. Last week I was so preoccupied with work and couldnt spend as much time with the kids anymore. I thought to myself its not all worth it anymore if I am beginning to ignore the ones we loved. So Im hitting the break again and taking it slowly. Like today was a good day, I finally got a day off and my family time back, and that I am looking forward to.

    • Reply
      May 30, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      Hi FrugalityToFinancialFreedom,

      Definitely great that you have come to the realization that spending all day at work isn't worth it. Looking forward on making money on achieving FI is important but you need to remember to stay present.

  • Reply
    Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank
    May 29, 2015 at 1:44 am

    I just realized that I am in the be-do-have path. I am so happy that I am taking this path,which gives me much assurance that I am on my way to reaching my goals. Thanks for differentiating the two paths Tawcan.

    • Reply
      May 30, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      Hi Jayson,

      That's great hearing that you're on the be-do-have path. 🙂

  • Reply
    May 29, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Hi Tawcan
    A very philosophical post which I enjoyed reading - thanks.

    Well, I used to be Have-Do-Be but now I'm not. I think I'm vary between Be-Do-Have and Do-Be-Have!

    I know that my past shaped me into the person I am now, hence I pretty much live life with no regrets - I made some bad decisions in life but even those decisions played a part in who I am now. I've moved on, I don't dwell on the past but I do look back fondly on the good times and hope that I can create new memories that I can look back fondly upon in the future!

    Ok, that's starting to hurt my brain, thinking like that!

    • Reply
      May 30, 2015 at 8:41 pm

      Hi weenie,

      I think the first step is to realize the difference between have-do-be and be-do-have. Once you realize the difference it's easy to remind yourself to stay on the be-do-have path. Our past shapes who we are today but we shouldn't let our past govern what we can do and what we can achieve in the future.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2015 at 3:25 pm

    Who we are and what defines us is a great question. This reminds me of the 'nature versus nurture' question and what really makes us who we are. Is it the way we are brought up that influences us or is it something innate that's coded in our genetic makeup. It's obviously a combination of the two but I'm a believe that nurture is a huge component of the mix and that's what really defines us and our habits. Of course, your question of being who we are today without any past experiences to influence us would be very interesting to see as well as I'm sure our own ideas of life and what it should be will be totally different. I doubt any of us would subscribe to the 'retire at 65' mantra or other points you mention. Thanks for making me think this weekend!

    • Reply
      May 30, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      Hi DivHut,

      Glad to hear that you're thinking about this topic. It's a complex topic that I discussed and I'm sure we will all have different answers.

  • Reply
    May 29, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    I am guilty of looking forward a lot.,My journey to financial freedom has definitely reshpaed my outlook, however. I think I am more statisfied with the current state of things now. That was a great article to make me think!

    • Reply
      May 30, 2015 at 8:43 pm

      Hi Vawt,

      While looking forward is OK, it's more important to stay in the present and focus what's happening right now. If you look forward too much you just end up dreaming about it. Glad to have made you think a bit.

  • Reply
    Income Surfer
    May 29, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    I really enjoyed this post Tawcan. Quite often we are our own worst enemy, whether because we bought into society's bullshit about what we aren't.....or because of our own insecurities. I am reminded of that quote from Shakespeare about how anyone can be someone when they HAVE everything, but it takes someone special to be someone when they HAVE NOTHING.

    I can't remember which play that was from, but I always thought that spoke well for how we tend to define ourselves by things.

    • Reply
      May 30, 2015 at 8:44 pm

      Hi Bryan,

      We are our own worst enemy but at the same time we're our own best ally as well. We just need to make sure we are are own best ally most off the time so we can be the best at whatever we decide to do.

  • Reply
    [email protected] of Investing
    May 29, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    Really nice post Tawcan, resonates with me a lot. After so many years of focusing on money and investing, I've definitely had much more of a focus of trying to live in the present in the last couple of years. If you don't have that mindset of being grateful for what you have around you at this moment, life will just become a series of milestones, no matter how big the portfolio grows.

    • Reply
      May 30, 2015 at 8:45 pm

      Hi Jason,

      You're very right, if you can't be grateful for what you have around you right now, you may never be grateful, even if you have all the money you can imagine.

  • Reply
    Dividend Hustler
    May 30, 2015 at 7:37 am

    Thanks for the article Tawcan. Great read bud.
    Definitely we gotta live and enjoy life. Just gotta be content and happy with yourself first and foremost. Everything else comes after.
    Have a nice weekend and enjoy the baby my friend. Cheers

    • Reply
      May 30, 2015 at 8:45 pm

      Hi Dividend Hustler,

      Thanks man. Go out and enjoy life!

  • Reply
    June 1, 2015 at 6:04 am

    We're all equipped with the power to generate a sense of happiness within ourselves. Just wake up everyday, think of 3 positive things - things you're appreciated, things that going right, things that make you happy. After 1 month, you've turned yourself into a more positive person. Of course, it is harder to go and execute that. We should all try to be the "be-do-have" person, but we do live in a capitalist world, therefore a bit of peer pressure among other things when we interacts with other human, will make us the have-do-be person.

    Great posts! When people no longer feel that they are making "scarify" when they cut cost to achieve FI, that's when they've become the Be-Do-Haver 😛

    • Reply
      June 1, 2015 at 11:46 am

      Hi Vivianne,

      I like your suggestion of thinking 3 positive things each morning. This is similar to stating to yourself "I love my life" each morning.

  • Reply
    Dividend Gremlin
    June 1, 2015 at 7:06 am

    I fully agree with your sentiments. I used to fall under have-do-be, and now am much more a be-do-have kind of person. I think people all have shades of those two in their heads, and just let one dominate. It is easy to agree most people are have-do-be, and maybe some can change but not all.

    I agree the small things matter. I also have found that certain activities like a sports game during the week breaks it up and I free my mind of work and such.

    • Reply
      June 1, 2015 at 11:47 am

      Hi Gremlin,

      Be-do-have is the way to go but you're right, it might be tough to stay on that side all the time. The important thing is to make sure we keep be-do-have in mind when we approach things in our lives.

  • Reply
    June 1, 2015 at 7:30 am

    The essence of every marketing message is that buying the advertised product or service will make us happier, somehow, some way. Over time and after taking in billions of such messages, for many of us the connection between consumption and happiness becomes instinctive. We lose track of what really makes us happy and instead pursue, zombie-like, happiness through stuff. Sadly, it never works. When I reflect on the most fun, happiest times of my life, there's no connection to how much stuff I had or how much money I was earning. What made the difference was the simplicity of my lifestyle, my capability to control how I spent my time, and a core group of good friends.

    • Reply
      June 1, 2015 at 11:48 am

      Hi Kurt,

      Totally, we all make the connection between consumption and happiness. Unfortunately this is the wrong connection. We really should be making an effort to simplify our lives and that will make all of us happier.

  • Reply
    Preet Singh
    June 2, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    Great Article. We all know that we should live in the present but somehow we get so busy in our day 2 day chores that we forget the true value of life. Thanks for reminding.

    • Reply
      June 4, 2015 at 11:59 am

      Hi Preet,

      It's important to remember the true value of life. Something to keep in mind for sure.

  • Reply
    Our Next Life
    June 4, 2015 at 6:24 am

    Hi Tawcan. This is great, and glad it's getting a wide readership on Rockstar Finance. Maintaining a mindset of total presence is especially hard for those of us planning for early retirement because by at least some necessity, we're focusing forward and planning toward some date in the future. Thank you for the reminder, though, that we can't get completely swept up in that, or we'll miss out on our life in the meantime and shift our sense of happiness to this external place, when it should be internal.

    • Reply
      June 4, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      Hi Our Next Life,

      Glad that you enjoyed reading this blog post. I had a lot of fun reading it too.

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  • Reply
    March 10, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Thx for pointing me to this article. Funny enough, thi is subject my wife brought to the table today: live and appreciate the now. Do not multitask.

    That is probably my biggest challenge: enjoy the little things now. Stop thinking and planning... Easier said than done... An tips/books to get started?

    • Reply
      March 10, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      The best tip I have is to be present and less thinking about what's going to happen tomorrow. Easier said than done for sure.

  • Reply
    March 12, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    I will give it a try!

  • Reply
    Reformed Investor
    June 23, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Hey TAWCAN, this is Great!
    i have nothing to add. I have just learnt a lot. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    God Bless!!

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