He who stands on tiptoe,
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead,
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine,
dims his own light.
He who defends himself,
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others,
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his own work,
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 24, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
That reference to standing on tiptoe always brings me back to my childhood. I was small for my age, growing up. And I never liked that my younger brother was taller than me. Whenever we had pictures taken together, I was always standing on tiptoe to try and look taller. I didn’t think it was natural that my younger brother was taller. So, I resorted to something unnatural to try and make me appear taller. In looking back through pictures from my childhood, it is apparent. In candid pictures, I look natural. But in posed pictures I am not.
The resistance to being natural is the point of what Lao Tzu is talking about in today’s chapter. Are you a poser, too? Are you always standing on tiptoe? Rushing ahead? Trying to outshine everybody else? Always feeling the need to defend yourself? Do you have or crave power over others? Are you clinging to your own machinations? None of that is in accord with the Tao. And, none of that is going to result in anything that endures.
To those who think they already know, yes, that used to be me, they can’t know who they really are. If you really want to empower yourself, give up your will to power. Do your job and then let go of it. Don’t cling to it. Don’t try to make a big show of it. Instead of trying to shine, let your light shine. Be content to be who and what you are. Let go of all your desires to become something you are not.