Life is subtle. We find variations of happiness and sadness throughout our day. We feel disappointment, pride and everything in between. But life isn’t really about living on the extremes.
I write often about the Tao Te Ching. The Tao is a fascinating document that challenges convention wisdom and provides counterpoints to beliefs and values that we hold. And it does so in a very subtle way. In fact, most people that I know that have read, heard of, or been told about the Tao still find disagreement in the core messages.
One of the core teachings of the Tao is that there will always be times when things are difficult and things are easy, times when we find strength and times we are weak, times when we are up and times when we are down. Through it all the Tao says, “Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excess and complacency.”
I have read numerous interpretations of this verse and they have variations in the words used but the core message is the same. There will always be ups and downs in life and the best we can do is to avoid the extremes.
Yet in our society we hail the world-class athlete because of the extreme success. Somehow when, time after time, these athletes fall from grace we seem shocked and appalled by their sins. Finding out they abused their spouse, raped women using date rape drugs, created a profile on Ashley Madison, took steroids throughout their career, murdered someone etc. shocks us because we value the extreme. The more extreme their success we assume the more extreme their success in everything.
But that is not the case. In fact one of the negatives to having extreme success in one area of your life is that you probably had to sacrifice other areas of your life. You may have had to miss out on raising your children because you were building a career or couldn’t really mature through challenges because everyone put you on a pedestal.
The point of this article isn’t to attack those who have made mistakes in the public spotlight but it actually for the rest of us; those of us who will never reach the extreme level of success in an area of our lives.
What lessons can we learn from this?
The biggest lesson is to avoid getting caught up in feeling that the extremes are the best. Time and time again the extreme success story comes back to be the extreme disappointment (Bill Cosby, Aaron Hernandez, OJ Simpson, Tiger Woods, Jared from Subway, etc. etc.).
Instead shift your focus to the subtly. Find the calmness and contentment that allows you to improve. Don’t allow yourself to be complacent. Complacent means that you just sit around and give up. Strive to improve but don’t do so from an ego-driven place that says you have to be an extreme success.
One of the great benefits to systems and habits improvement is that you can slowly make progress. You don’t sell your soul for a chance to be number one; you gradually improve and slowly get to your goal. You can better understand the journey and that the ups and downs are part of it. Through it all you can finally start to improve and achieve subtly, avoiding the extremes. The benefit is that you don’t make huge sacrifices; instead you learn to find contentment from the progress.