Telic vs. Atelic Doing

Philip Markle
9 min readNov 22, 2017

I’m obsessed with doing. I like to get things done. Much like those horrible Fiverr campaigns plastered right now across the NY subway attest, I am a Do-Er:

I even wrote this poem about it:

I am a Do-er.

I Do all the time

Do this

Do that

Do more

Do less

Always Doing.

I’d rather Be.

But Beings beyond

What I can do.

So I Do

Do it

Do him

Do her

When I’m done,

I don’t.

I wait

I worry

Till I do some more.

I wish I didn’t.

I won’t do anymore

I say.

I mean it.

But I don’t

Stop Doing.

I can’t

Do Nothing.

Just Being

is something

I wish for

Every Day.

I’m gonna Do

Myself to death.

I want to understand why I constantly feel empty, waiting around for something else to accomplish, another box to check off. So, I read this article in the NYTimes, which opened my eyes to the two types of “doing,” as Aristotle defined them. To quote:

We can distinguish activities of two fundamental kinds. Telic activities — from “Telos,” the Greek word for purpose — aim at terminal states, by which they are completed. Think of reading this article or driving home from work. Once you arrive at the goal, you are finished: The point of the activity has been achieved. You can do it again, but only by way of repetition. Not all activities are like this. Some activities are atelic: They do not aim at terminal states. However much you reflect on life or spend time with your family, you cannot complete these activities. Though you will eventually stop doing them, they do not aim at a point at which there is no more of them to do…When you care…

Philip Markle

Performer, storyteller, teacher - living in NYC and traveling worldwide ( Artistic Director of The Brooklyn Comedy Collective.


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