Tao’s three business lessons: simplicity, patience, compassion

I’ve turned to Tao Te Ching, by Lao-tzu, many times over the years. This little book always seemed to carry all the wisdom I ever needed. No matter which verses I re-read, there’s always unforeseen knowledge and love, as if it’s not just me who has grown since the last time I opened the book, but as if the book itself has grown wiser and more loving through time, just like a living organism would.

So, naturally, every time I’m faced with making a big business decision, I elegantly seek to avoid the responsibility of actually making the decision and instead, I turn to this little book to look for an answer. Just like any responsible adult would. And just like any responsible adult, I’m annoyed when I don’t find Lao-tzu writing anywhere in the book: “Sister, I’ve got your back! Do this and everything will work out well.” Because really Lao-tzu, I need an answer, not something to meditate on.

But here’s what I do find in Lao-tzu’s words: a compass that I can use to make my own decision. A compass that helps me cope with difficult situations. A compass that I hope will help you too, my dear friend.

Here’s my go-to compass:

“Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
 
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”

(verse 67, S. Mitchell translation)

These three loving teachers are my go-to compass, simplicity, patience, compassion. They’re eager to guide us in business, and in all of life’s experiences.

But they’re also tricky little teachers. Sometimes even cheeky.

Take simplicity for instance, most likely the cheekiest of all. What does simplicity mean to you? When I think about it, I can’t pinpoint a true definition. I don’t even know what it means, and I’m supposed to let it teach me something? The dictionary says “plain, natural.” Ok, we can start there. But to me, simplicity is more than that.

It’s about a state of being.

Because you see, simplicity requires clarity. You can’t strive towards simplicity without first knowing exactly what you want and what you don’t want. To keep things simple, you must keep them simple in accordance with something. That something is deep in, at the core of our work and soul.

So simplicity is about a state of being aligned, authentic and core centered.

My hairdresser knows a thing or two about it. She’s so amazing at what she does, so I keep asking her, why not expand your business? Why not add these services, or offer to make home visits or this and that. And she always tell me quickly “Noo, noo, Mihaela, what I love to do is this. This is the only thing I want to keep doing.” This is her craft. She doesn’t want a big business, she wants to simply focus on her craft. That’s all. She knows what she wants and it’s easy for her to say “no” to outside opportunities that wouldn’t fit in her soul’s journey.

Patience and compassion are cheeky teachers too.

When you’re “patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are,” says Tao, which I take to mean that you don’t waste your precious energy on things you can’t control and that you surrender to the wise workings of the universe.

You trust the process, you focus on your work and on your unique and much needed contribution to the world. That’s truly the only thing you can control. Sit still. Understand that others have their own path and journey to take, and it’s not your job to get involved or to waste your thoughts on their choices. Your only job is to make sure that you nurture your own strengths, that you continue to grow and that you show up with love in the world.

It’s a funny thing, but we’re supposed to make our own decisions in this life on earth. We’re meant to learn from them and grow and love more as a result of weaving our own journey. That’s how this world was built. And because our choices are meant to make us grow, we can’t interfere in other people’s choices.

Tao then tells us that when you’re “compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.” If you want to bring peace and light to all beings in the world, if you want all beings in the world to show up in front of you in peace, you have to bring peace and love to your own soul first.

Tao wants us to accept with compassion every step we take, even the steps we take in the wrong direction. Think about what you say to your child when she crawls under the table and then bumps her head when she tries to stand up. You don’t yell at her. You hug her and you thank her for being brave and for trying a new crawling path. You know she learns by trying, just like you do. As my grandmother used to say, “treat yourself the way you would treat your child”. Compassion for her, compassion for you. If you applaud her bravery, applaud yours as well.

So, thank you dear Tao for your great three lessons.

photo credit: Yoann Boyer

Mihaela Akers