Toon-Te-Ching: Verse 9

Welcome to this week’s installment of the Toon-Te-Ching.  Each week we are taking one of the 81 verses of the Tao-Te-Ching, pairing it with a toon and connecting the teaching to our work life.

Verse 9

To keep on filling is not as good as stopping.

Overfilled, the cupped hands drip, better to stop pouring.

Sharpen a blade too much and its edge will soon be lost.

Fill your house with jade and gold and it brings insecurity.

Puff yourself with honor and pride and no one can save you from a fall.

Retire when the work is done; this is the way of heaven.

The 7 deadly sins.  This verse is cautioning us against the temptation of greed, excess and pride.  Though written centuries before, these bring to mind the two of the 7 deadly sins found in Christianity.   And though many people hold fast to a religion that preaches against greed and excessive pride, how do we end up in workplaces driven by both?

Excess includes work.  The phrase “Retire when the work is done” is not about retiring as we use the term, he’s referring to resting.  My children seem to have a very clear line about when their homework is complete.  I am often tempted to push them to take another look, see if they can make it better or find an error.  I realized that I’m the dysfunctional one here because I don’t think I’ve ever felt ‘done’ with anything. According to the Tao, overworking is not the way to heaven. Work is only virtuous until it is done.

Too much of anything is not good.  The Tao describes things that when overdone, overfilled, oversharpened, actually undo themselves.  But we don’t practice this at work. The corporate motto seems to be “if a little is good, more is even better!”  We see this all the time when franchises saturate their own market. There are places in Manhattan with two Starbucks across the street from each other, a reality parodied in the movie ‘Best in Show’.  

Brain Twist:  Find something in your work today that is good enough, and stop working on it.  Take a page from the Agile Playbook and write down a “definition of done” for your day.  It could be ‘5:00’ or it could be the essential items on your to-do list. Leave when your definition of done has been satisfied.  Do not check email or take calls after your work is done.

Translation from:  Dyer, Wayne. Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao (p. 44). Hay House. Kindle Edition.