I’ve done a lot of soul searching since last week, examining my beliefs, my ideas, and my convictions. Working on the manifesto was a deeply emotional experience for me, and the examining pain of failure and defeat has taught me a lot.
I’ve found great comfort in Taoist texts over the past several months, and the more I struggle with my own challenges, the more I learn from words written 2,500 years ago. They have led me to consider my place in the world, and I reached a couple of identity-shattering realizations. I’ve learned about life. I’ve learned about leadership. I’ve learned about the natural way of the world.
Oh, and since I haven’t exactly changed the world just yet, you can bet that this is a philosophical discourse. Here are some thoughts:
Live life for yourself first.
“He who pursues fame at the risk of losing himself is not a scholar. He who loses his life and is not true to himself can never be a master of man.” – the book of chuang tzu
I had a long conversation with a client about my breakdown. She’s a fellow coach and we have a great relationship, so she could give me an outside perspective of what could be amiss and she knew that I was strong enough to accept her honest feedback.
She asked me something that shook me up a bit. She asked, “What have you done for Rob lately?” I was shaken because the answer was, “Nothing.”
I sat down to write the manifesto not for myself, but for the benefit of others and the glory of the accomplishment. At a personal level, it was empty work. I felt like I was selling out–again. At a professional level, it was even less fulfilling. There was no real impact on my bottom line or on my readers’ quality of life.
“[A] man who sees not himself but others, or takes possession not of himself but of others, possessing only what others possess and possessing not his own self, does what pleases others instead of pleasing his own nature. Now one who pleases others, instead of pleasing one’s own nature is just another one gone astray.” – the book of chuang tzu
I know that it needs to be done, but I forget to take time for myself. I get so caught up in the work that I lose sight of the big picture. I forget that my goal is to do less work, to do better work, and to achieve more results. Instead, I found myself doing lots of exhausting work with little to no personal or professional results.
“The Sages of old first strengthened their own character before they tried to strengthen that of others.” – the book of chuang tzu
You know you need to do it, too, but I’d bet that you’re not doing as much as you’d like to for yourself. Never lose possession of yourself. Take care of yourself. You need to be happy before you can help others.
All things start from emptiness.
In Taoist thought, there is a principle called Pu, which roughly means “uncarved block of wood.” The moment that you carve a block of wood into a statue or a doorstop, it loses its usefulness. It is only useful when it is uncarved. Similarly, if you fill a glass with water, the glass is no longer useful. It is only useful when it is empty.
“In the pursuit of learning, every day something is gained. In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.” – tao te ching
Filling your head with knowledge is will not accomplish your goals. Emptying your head of that which is not important will give you the opportunity to see what is really necessary.
Do not assert that you are right. Instead, assume that you are wrong.
Lead by example.
“Teaching without words and work without doing are understood by very few.” – tao te ching
There is a principle called wei wu wei, which means “action without action” or “effortless doing.” One can teach another without actually teaching. I aspire to teach others by living my life and showing them what is possible. When I tell people how I live my life, few people believe that I can survive. When I show them, they realize that they, too, can be free.
Talk less. Do more.
I’m terrible at this. I spend so much time selling what I have to offer that I forget that I have to deliver.
“Those who know do not talk. Those who talk do not know.” – tao te ching
Those who are spending a great deal of energy marketing and selling their products and services do not have remarkable products or services. Those who focus on delivering what they have to offer find that their work sells itself.
Changing the world starts with many, not one.
“The world is ruled by letting things take their course. It cannot be ruled by interfering.” – tao te ching
One person alone cannot change the world. One man cannot start a revolution. This runs contrary to what the wishy-washy woo woo, feel good self-help gurus will tell you. They’ll lead you to believe that one person can change the world.
“The sage has no mind of his own. He is aware of the needs of others.” – tao te ching
One person can indeed lead a revolution. He can organize a movement that changes the world. But changing the world starts with being aware of the needs of others and leading when the world needs to be led.
I challenge you to point out one successful leader in history who has singlehandedly changed the world. Every day, thousands of people are working diligently to change the world. Very few succeed.
I can think of two leaders in recent history that have tried to change the world.
Martin Luther King, Jr. did. So did Adolf Hitler.
Both were extraordinary leaders. One succeeded, the other failed.
King stepped up to lead a revolution that the world was desperate for. He lead not with his own ideas, but with the ideas of others. He stepped in to organize an existing social movement.
Hitler stepped up to lead a revolution based on a personal conviction which he forced upon the world through fear and violence.
The same is true of business. If you create a product or service that the world does not yet want, you will never succeed. You may make some money, but you will be doomed to spend the rest of your life selling your product and it will never be sustainable. If you create a product or service that the world is desperate for, you will have all that you need, for the world will support you in return.
Reject your own ideas. Listen to others. You will find what needs to be done.
If you want to change the world, start with others who believe what you believe.
I personally believe that working in an unfulfilling job for your entire life is unnatural. I believe that the purpose of work is to enable life, and that the purpose of life is to be happy and to make others happy, too. Very few 9 to 5 jobs support this. Instead, they turn the individual into a cog in a well-oiled machine in which the only goal is efficiency. My heart breaks thinking of the millions of Americans working in corporate prisons because they have been told that doing so is all there is to life.
But I will never start a mass exodus from corporate jobs. It is unsustainable, and the world as we know it would crumble. Society would not allow it.
“Do not intrude in their homes. Do not harass them at work. If you do not interfere, they will not weary of you. Therefore the sage knows himself but makes no show, has self-respect but is not arrogant.” – tao te ching
I could try to force my opinion on others, and many would rally in anger against the corporate beasts that are holding my brethren captive, but I would be no different than Adolf Hitler leading the Nazi party to promote the Aryan people at the expense of the rest of the world.
Instead, I recognize that there are millions of people who are content with earning a paycheck, returning home to their spouses and children, and enjoying dinner with their families. Who am I to take that away from them? How is my perspective superior?
There are others out there, though, who know that there is something more. In fact, they know that they need to change, but they are looking for the leadership to step out of their cubicles–or their miserable self-employment–and start living life free of the constraints that bind them. They need a resource.
For these people, I will step up and lead. “I have a dream.” I will not change the world, but I am uninterested in doing so. Instead, I will lead those who wish to be led. I will show the world that it is possible to be free to do what I want to do, where I want to do it, and when I want to do it. I will show people that you can create opportunity out of any interest, and that someone, somewhere, will turn to you for leadership. I will show you that you can be selfish and selfless at the same time, that you can chase your dreams while helping others and supporting your family.
“If a common man, he will die for gain. If a scholar, he will die for fame. If a ruler of a township, he will die for his ancestral roots. If a Sage, he will die for the world.” – the book of chuang tzu
I lead neither for personal gain, nor fame, nor tradition. I lead because I wish to make my world a better place.
That’s my dream. And you can choose to follow, or you can choose to stay behind. That’s your decision.