You can’t keep standing on tiptoe
or walk in leaps and bounds.
You can’t shine by showing off
or get ahead by pushing.
Self-satisfied people do no good,
self-promoters never grow up.

Such stuff is to the Tao
as garbage is to food
or a tumor to the body,
The follower of the Way
avoids it.

Lao Tzu
Ursula K Le Guin’s version

Another poem that seems self-explanatory, yes?

“Self-satisfied people do no good, / self-promoters never grow up.” is a fascinating idea and exceptionally relevant, I think, to the moment that is this dire week. But I won’t discuss that here. There’s simply too much to say about it.

But moving past that, this poem is especially relevant today, in the world we experience daily. Of course, when we look around us, it seems that those who push and self-promote are the ones who achieve most.

This is true, if you look at the world through a specific lens. If what you want is money and power, this is the way to it. Many people would say that they just want a lot of money so they can live in comfort, and there’s no reason not to believe them.

But what I find (and studies, too) is that the more wealth you gain, the more you need. Not because of greed or any malice, but because people tend to escalate their lifestyle to fit their income. Which means that, often, when people begin to make more money, they also tend to spend more money.

Just from purely anecdotal evidence, this should be obvious. The amount of money I need today to fit my lifestyle is incredibly more than what I needed just a few years ago. I think part of this is because poverty teaches you to not spend, even on things you want or need. And so when you start to make more money, you see it as an opportunity to finally have all those things you couldn’t have before.

Nothing wrong with that, but it is definitely why people have no concept of what middle class or poverty mean. Because you can have a family that takes in six figures who still feel like they barely have enough money to pay the bills at the beginning or end of each month, depending on when your bills are due.

And it’s why, I think, the previous poem is quite related to this.

The Tao doesn’t ask us to be poor. It asks us to look beyond these measures and consider our life in a much different way. To stop measuring ourselves. Instead, ask yourself if you’re happy. If this is what you want form life.

Because you will never get what you want by seeking value in exterior measures.