Should You Be More of a Thinker or a Doer?

A thinker and a doer exchange letters

Posted Dec 13, 2020 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina

No author listed, pxhere, public domain
Source: No author listed, pxhere, public domain

A perhaps under-discussed human continuum is thinker vs. doer. Here are two composite letters. One is from a thinker to a doer, the other from a doer to a thinker.

Perhaps reading them will help you clarify if you are where you want to be on that continuum.

Dear Doer,

The main reason I’m a thinker rather than a doer is that it’s easier:

  •  I don’t have to get proven wrong when my idea fails.
  • I can think about myself and my issues as much as I want.
  • I don’t need to deal with people—They’re messy: I don’t have to rely on anyone, I don’t have to feel self-conscious about imposing, or pissed off when they don’t respond promptly to my emails. I keep control, which everyone knows is key to reducing stress.
  • I can dabble—Think about my sex life one minute, whether the world is getting better the next, what I really think of my mother the next.
  • I can procrastinate—Now there’s something that comes easily to me.

Secondarily, at least in my circle of friends, disproportionately eggheads, people who live a life of the mind, thinkers are venerated while doers, unless exceptionally accomplished, are typically viewed as careerist, materialist, or glory seekers. I’d like to say that I don’t care what others think of me but I do, and I don’t think that will change.

I can rationalize and say that I’m a thinker because most important problems require more reflection than reflex and so I’ll end up making a bigger difference by deferring action until my ideas are well-formed into a thoughtful plan. But if I am to be honest, that’s but a sliver of my motivation. With eight billion people on the planet, each in their own way trying to make a difference, the impact of any of my doings would be a mere grain of sand on a beach.

When it comes down to it, I’m just meant to be more of a thinker than a doer.

Eager to hear why you’re a doer.


Dear Thinker,

Like you, if I’m to be honest, my being a doer comes mainly from a selfish place: It’s easier, more natural for me. By nature, I'm impatient and fast: I work fast, even if it means I occasionally make mistakes. More than a few times, I've had to scramble to avoid a big problem. I even do very personal things (If you catch my drift) fast.

Like you, I care about feeling special, not average. And most people are thinkers or talkers rather than doers and are more likely to accomplish little and to think back and say, “Woulda, coulda, shoulda.” So, to be honest, being a doer makes me feel not only not-average but superior. Ironic that your being a thinker makes you feel superior.

Also, in being a doer, I don’t spend much time introspecting, which very quickly reaches a point of diminishing returns—I mainly just bore myself. And I sure don’t want to be like those self-absorbed people who bore you to tears, parsing out all their musings about their first-world problems, for example, whining about being insufficiently appreciated by their boss or partner.

Also, when I act rather than think, my life changes: I have new challenges, practical, interpersonal, even geographical. My life isn’t static; it’s not boring.

True, as you say, with eight billion human ants crawling around to make a difference or at least survive, my efforts very likely will have trivial impact. Yet I continue to be motivated by—since you mention beaches— that old parable of the starfish, and forgive me if you’re heard it 10 zillion times. Just in case you’re one of the few people left on the planet that hasn’t heard it: A young person was walking along a beach and saw an old person picking starfish off the beach and tossing them into the ocean. The young man said, “But as you can see, there are thousands of starfish on this beach alone and millions and millions in the world. What possible difference could you make?” And the old person picked up a starfish, looked at it and, as he tossed it into the ocean, said, “To him, a very big difference.”

The takeaway

So, was there anything in those letters that makes you want to be more of a thinker or more of a doer?

I read this aloud on YouTube.