Here’s a beautiful tale from ancient China: a long time ago, the earth and sky were a blurred and closed entity like an egg. There was no light, no wind, no rain, no water, nor anything. One day, a god named Pangu was born. He felt suppressed staying in an egg-like world, so he pushed around using his bare feet and hands. Every day, the sky rose ten feet higher, the earth became ten feet thicker, and Pangu grew ten feet taller.
Eighteen thousand years have passed. The sky and the land were finally separated far apart and became what they are now today. And there was an extremely tall Pangu, who was too tired to continue pushing, so he died. His head turned into the Five Sacred Mountains in China, his eyes turned into the moon and the sun, his blood turned into rivers and sea, his hair into grass. In all, Pangu and the universe combined into one.
Pangu separated the sky and the earth
When I recall this story from my childhood, I see a deeper meaning in it. Pangu is undoubtedly a great god. He created the whole world according to the fairy tale. However, there’s also one and only Pangu - he left a legacy with himself being exhausted. It led me to think of another ancient tale. Interestingly, it happened just after Pangu’s era:
After Pangu separated the sky and the earth, there were no humans. Just then another god was born, this time a female whose name is Nuwa. With her magic, she created many animals such as chicken, dog, pig, goat, ox and horse, as well as blessing the land with mountains, lakes, rivers and forests. Nevertheless, she still felt a bit lonely, so she started making a creature like herself using mud. She decided to call it ‘Ren (men)’.
Loving ‘Ren’ so much, Nuwa made one after another non-stop, but there were still not enough of them on earth. Nuwa cleverly thought of an idea. She dipped a rope into the mud and lifted it. The mud that dripped from the rope also became ‘Ren’. Soon the earth was filled with happy and busy human beings and the goddess Nuwa could finally give herself a good rest.
Nuwa created humans using a rope dipped with mud
I’m sure different people have different interpretations of these stories, but what do they tell me? Well, here are some personal reflections:
There’s no single pathway/definition towards success
Recently I read ‘The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership’ by John C. Maxwell. From the book I found the world leaders gained their influence through a variety of pathways. People like Theodore Roosevelt had inherent charisma and attracted people who shared similar values (‘The Law of Magnetism’), while Lance Armstrong, one of the best athletes, fielded a team that contributed their expertise to success altogether (‘The Law of Inner Circle’).
If we draw back to Pangu and Nuwa - both gods made a profound impact and are of great inspiration. However, their methodologies are quite different. Pangu carried strong determination and stuck to one single task throughout his life; Nuwa was busy with many things and constantly iterated the process to make it work better for herself.
Who would you choose to be, TR or Armstrong, Pangu or Nuwa?
The art of leadership, success and legacy eventually boil down to the sense of self-achievement. It’s quite a journey for us to discover who we are, what we want, what satisfies us, what makes us happy, and what’s worth our time spent. The answers we get are not always correct; or rather, instead of saying if it’s right or wrong, the results we received from paying certain efforts did not endow the expected amount of happiness or satisfaction. Consequently, we get anxious, impatient and even confused. So I’d constantly remind myself to be present. Enjoy the moment. Set the heavy self-reflection practice to be only once in a while, so I can live the rest of the time whole-heartedly and care-free.
The importance of being insensitive
As someone born in a traditional Chinese family, I grew up hearing talks like ‘be humble and modest’ ‘don’t be satisfied with small achievements’. There was a constant discouragement of self-pride as it was regarded as a sign of stopping hard work. Now looking back at this type of education, I do agree the pressure got me going and stretching for better results, but it also causes self-doubt and an unrestful mind. Like Pangu - he realised his goal to break through the ‘egg’ but also made a big loss, his body and long life. While many may think it’s worth it, I would prefer following Nuwa who at least knows to take some rest.
At work and in life, I also know people who are extremely hardworking and they achieved tremendous milestones in advance than their peers. Many of them established great influence and motivated others to hustle and chase big dreams. All these are positive, despite the sacrifice behind the scene. Shamelessly, I think I used to be one of them. But now I desire a change. The book ‘Insensitivity (钝感力)’ by Junichi Watanabe gives me new food for thoughts that sometimes it’s good to be less sensitive towards failure, negative comments or awkward situations. It also makes me see the merit out of different outcomes: whether it’s growth or pause, or even fall back. There’s ultimately something to learn from it.
A respectful mentor once said to me, ‘you should never have a Plan B.’ Now I doubt it, and will even say ‘no’ to it. Why? Because now I celebrate the flexibility of changing plans and accept all possible results.
Strategically choose your focuses
I find focusing a challenge to me. Not that I cannot focus on completing a task assigned to me (my husband complains a lot that I can’t hear him when I am doing my things), but mostly on choosing what to do in the first place. During a long week break, I did an interesting experiment. I’d like to share it openly with you and I hope you can read it without judging.
Before I started my wellness break, I made a wish list of all the things I wanted to do in five days. At the end of my holiday, I rated all my experiences based on the sense of happiness I had, the knowledge or valuable skills I gained, as well as an overall evaluation for the worth of my time. I wished to see what exactly fulfills me outside work. So here’s the table:
I found reading, going outdoors and having a thoughtful talk with a friend/family on top of my list, whereas watching drama and social media were at the bottom. In fact, I didn’t touch social media at all except browsing LinkedIn once a day. It leaves me thinking that maybe the social world brought a bundle of negativity to me in an unconscious manner, and I should probably spend even less time on it outside work.
In the meantime, I have a bulk of activities with close scores in the middle, such as drawing, family time, cooking and exercise which I did find a hard time to balance off many times. Now the table clearly presented my struggle in front of me and drove me to work on prioritising my time strategically. For example, I’d ask myself to read at least one chapter of a book per day (if it’s a heavy one, maybe half of a chapter or one section), I’ll have a heart-to-heart talk with a friend once per week, and maybe I can integrate some events such as family time and drawing with each other, and exercise when going outdoors. Who knows?
Some of the happy things I experienced during the week-long experiment
The moral I get from the experiment is: our body can only form limited numbers of habits, so it’s necessary to optimise what we ask it to do and not do; and finetune the frequency of tasks that we get it to work on to maximize the time value. It also comes to the end of my little self-discovery journey. Honestly, I feel my heart is settled, more peaceful, and more grateful after reading these three books, reflecting on the two tales, and doing the one special experiment. Oh, did I mention the last book that I too think of very often? ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho. Having read it when I was very young, I used to love the quote ‘when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it’ a lot. While it’s still one of my favorites, I now have another one - ‘The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.’
Stay calm and carry on people. Let's love ourselves more. Tomorrow’s always another day!