Newsletter - June 2021

Do Your Job, Then Let Go

 

“If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go.”

(Lao Tzu)

 

Let go? But what if things don’t turn out the way we want? What if others don’t notice who we are and what we’ve done? The Tao Te Ching (Chapter 24) reminds us we can either be directed by our self-image and cling to what we’ve done, or we can let go and live in harmony with the Tao. It’s our choice.

 

Wouldn’t it be great if we always got to do a job we loved to do, the world paid us a living to do it, and we could just lose ourselves in the joy of doing our work? At the end of the day, we could let it all go knowing we could do the same again next day. The reward, as it were, would lie in the moment; it would not lie in some future payoff.

 

Unfortunately, a lot of the time our work is not a joyful end in itself – it’s a means to an end. Often, a large part of the reason for doing our work does lie in the future. We’re striving after something we desire: more money, or more security, or the esteem of other people. It’s the results we want, and we don’t have them yet. Nonetheless we act and feel as if we own the results already. So we take our work very personally. This is why we stay close by and why we don’t “let go.” Why do we do this?

 

I think part of the reason is because we’ve invested a lot of ourselves in doing the work. And we tend to cling to it precisely because we haven’t yet got the results. The previous sentence in Chapter 24 says “He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures.” We cling because we want to make sure we reap the rewards of our efforts. We desire the money, or the security we believe the money will bring, or the esteem of others who will notice what a great job we’ve done and think more highly of us. In a nutshell, once basic needs are met, we cling to our work because it’s the fame and fortune we’re after.

 

The bad news is that neither fame nor fortune are certain, and both of them have a habit of hiding in the future. What’s more, if they arrive in the present, they are seldom things that “endure.” In the words of the quote, they do not accord with the Tao.

 

So what does Lao Tzu mean when he invites us to let go and thereby “accord with the Tao”? I think he’s suggesting we let go of desiring particular future outcomes from what we do. Note this does not mean that we don’t care one way or another. Nor does it mean we have no goals. I think it simply means that when we act, we desire no particular outcome and expect no particular result.

 

Desire and expectation are not needed. What’s more they interfere because they linger once we have acted. They are our vested interest in a particular outcome or a particular result. Desire and expectation are what prevent us from letting go. In the grand scheme of things, all we have is the opportunity to influence what is unfolding anyway with or without our help. We don’t get to control all the detailed consequences of our actions. What if we let our goal be no more than a creative intent to shape the unfolding of what is about to be?

 

If we did this, I think we’d spend more time listening. We’d spend more time responding rather than reacting. We’d aim to create harmony. We’d forget desire and expectation. We’d act with intent and caring. Then we’d let go.

Well, I certainly wish I could do that consistently on a daily basis! What would that look like for me?

 

Suppose I was managing a project involving other people, I think it would look like getting less involved in the details of what everyone was doing, and getting more focused on building the vision of the project. I would do more letting go and trusting people to bring their skills to achieving our common goal. I like to think I wouldn’t lose sight of staying on time and on budget, but would be more open to changing our project plan if someone came up with a better way to do things.

 

Would I be “according” with the Tao? Well, that’s a tough question. However, I think the project would flow a lot better. In short, I think I’d still “do my job” but I’d also be more open to letting go. And if I was concerned that people wouldn’t notice what a great project manager I was, I’d try to remember the Harry S. Truman quote: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” I can’t help thinking Lao Tzu would agree.

 

What’s an example that’s true for you? Where do you think you might “cling” to your work? What would “letting go” look like for you? What aspect of your job might go better if you did some of that?

 

If you have any thoughts you’d like to share, you can get in touch with me by:

 

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this newsletter.

 

Francis

 (In Harmony with the Tao: A Guided Journey into the Tao Te Ching is available from your nearest independent bookstore, from White Cloud Press, from Amazon.com, or from Amazon.ca.)