Monday

Desire Nothing


I've heard Taoists call it the Yin Paradox. You might not know it by that name, but it has probably happened to you. Perhaps you had a stretch in your life where you were single for a long time and then, as soon as you stopped caring whether you had a partner or not, the universe dropped somebody wonderful into your life. Happens all the time, right? Well, if we all know this is how things work in love, business and just about anything else, why is it that we go on chasing all those things to no avail when, really, what we should be doing is sitting still, doing our thing, and attracting what we need?

The Cartoonist and author, Hugh MacLeod has a great chapter in his new book, Ignore Everyone (and 39 other keys to creativity), called The Best Way to Get Approval is Not to Need It. The story he tells is of a famous magazine publisher who is literally inundated with letters from out of work, formerly famous cartoonists, who are all writing to beg for a job. The publisher's response as he points to the stack of correspondence? "How not to get published."

Desperation, and even just plain yearning, are not attractive. We appear weak to other people when our desires are so plainly on display. Worse than appearing a little pathetic, we open ourselves up to be taken advantage of by bosses, significant others, clients, and anybody else within whiffing distance of our fear who may wish to exploit it. Please hire me, please buy my stuff, please approve of me, please love me...none of it works.


The author John Heider calls it the "paradox of letting go". In his book, The Tao of Leadership, he says: "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need. When I give myself, I become more. When I feel most destroyed, I am about to grow. When I desire nothing, a great deal comes to me."

It's not easy to "desire nothing". I don't think I've ever really gotten there myself. But I know that when I am successful at it, things do start to happen. When I started my dance business fifteen years ago, I got into it because it was a passion. I was fired up about it and I didn't care if I got famous or made one dollar for my trouble. I was just doing my thing, practicing my craft and trying to be a good ambassador, so other people would feel welcome. Well, we ended up making more than we thought we ever would, flying around the world, teaching people how to swing dance and, most importantly, forging lifelong friendships with some of the best people I've ever known. I'd like to credit our brilliant talents as marketers, dancers, teachers and all around good eggs but, really, I think our success, at least initially, came because we exuded the kind of confidence that only people who are crazy or have nothing to lose tend to display. We were attractors.

I think the same thing works just as well for selling goods. Those who engage authentically in the community, give of themselves, and are persistent, are the ones who will always be most successful. Those who chase business like a rabbit at a dog track, tend to just get tired.

26 comments:

  1. Beautifully put - I love this. For me, it was when I just started having *fun* everything else fell in to place. It's like ... magic, but much simpler. ;)

    and I love this quote: we exuded the kind of confidence that only people who are crazy or have nothing to lose tend to display.

    I have a little postcard that I always keep out by my desk that says, "Trust your crazy ideas." Indeed!

    But more importantly, how on earth have I missed that you're a swing dancer? :)

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  2. AJC - Thanks for the nice comment! I like "trust your crazy ideas"! re: the swing dancing thing: we've been semi-retired for four years. I think about it a lot, but don't talk about it that much.

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  3. Fantastic post. Everyone can benefit from these concepts!

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  4. Long time reader, first time commenter.

    1. Love this post and this blog. I'm very skeptical verging on bitter about a lot associated with the so-called "laws of attraction", but I do believe everything that you just said.
    2. I'm at that point where I feel most destroyed, which sounds like a pretty good sign to me!
    3. Like other readers, I always wondered what your non-crafty profession involved.

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  5. SWS - Long time no see. Thanks for the comment!

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  6. Kevan - Thanks for the comment! After dance, my actual non-crafty profession was teaching high school for three years and now I work at Duke University. I tend to go wehere either I think I can be of use, or where I have the greatest chance of growing the most.

    As to your situation - Sounds exciting. Terrible, but exciting. Sounds like you are ready for something to happen.

    re: the laws of attraction. I'm not bitter about it, but I also am a skeptic and am always wary of systems of any kind. If I didn't have personal experience with the topic above, I wouldn't be talking about it. I'll also count on you and other readers to keep me honest when you smell BS.

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  7. Paul, you seriously do kick a** at this whole blogging thing. :-)

    This post was a very timely and helpful shot in the arm this morning. I've been struggling along these lines all Summer, and I can definitely see the flow of opportunity choking off as I get more tensed up. Thank you indeed for this reminder. Deep breaths, everyone!

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  8. DG - Aw thanks. It always gives me a boost to get a comment from you.

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  9. Paul - Thank you for this post and for the reminder of how much being authentically ourselves ties into being creative. I know this & have certainly felt it in the past myself but we all need reminders when things get overwhelming.

    I've been thinking a lot recently about desiring/not desiring and have been mulling over a couple of related ideas:
    -- Desperation or the need for reassurance that you're wanted has at its root the fear that you're not wanted or that you're not desirable. I think this is what's so unattractive. Who gets attracted to (or even want to spend a lot of time with) someone who feels undesirable?
    -- It's impossible to fake confidence, but its root is the feeling of loving yourself. Sometimes this feels like simply loving what you're doing, sometimes this feels like genuinely loving yourself. But in either case there's a lack of a need for outside validation and then it comes across as genuine and selfless sharing of love (whether that love is for yourself or your ideas) - not giving love in order to get some in return.

    Having been one of the people pulled in by you as a dance teacher, I can verify that it was your love of the dance and of the music that was totally infectious. Yes, I learned a TON through your instruction, but what drew me in and kept me there was the energy that stemmed from your selfless desire to share something that you yourself found amazing.

    Kevan - Sending wishes your way for a speedy resurrection from destruction! It's never fun to go through it, but coming out the other side is so powerful!

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  10. Awesome! See, this is why I love comments. Cianna - Thanks so much for the thoughtful and entirely spot-on comment. I totally agree. If you don't love yourself, you have little to give and you spend a lot of your time worrying about what other people will think. I've definitely been through and am still going through the process of learning to be kind to myself and to take each criticism for what it is. I learn a lot more that way than through taking things personally. One of the very best things about our dance career is that I learned how to listen beneath the surface. When somebody would say something negative about us, I learned to see beyond the comment and look at what might be causing the stress or anger. When I finally "got" that, I was able to have way more empathy for the person doing the criticizing and was able to really get outside of the situation. A tool that still serves me well.

    Side note: My bass teacher is really great. Whenever I would make a mistake on a lesson and utter some kind of expletive, he would say: "look, another opportunity to be kind to yourself." Funny guy.

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  11. sigh ... I h8 this, things reeeeally shouldn't work this way; but who am I to argue against my very own experience, which bears out yer thesis (dagblastit!)

    Good post, Paul ... as ever, you da man ;)

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  12. Thanks for the comment Netarc! Funny.

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  13. oh, and speaking as another one of those peeps pulled in by you as a dance teacher, it was NOT your "love of the dance and of the music" that did me in ... it was yer pants, man ... them swank, baggy-azz pants ;)

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  14. Love this post. Letting go of the clinging is the hardest part for me. Nice to be reminded to not focus on the fear. :)

    I'm 99% sure I took a street swing class focused on aerials with you in San Francisco. I specifically remember learning the Cherry Drop, if that helps. Could it be?

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  15. FG- Definitely not. We never taught aerials. Probably Johnny Swing you are thinking about. Thanks for the nice comment!

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  16. netarc - way to out me. thanks a lot! :-)

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  17. That's too bad. I was sorta hoping it had been you guys. :)

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  18. So, we shouldn't try and do anything just wait for it happen by itself? What a load of old rot!

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  19. Anonymous - Thanks for the helpful comment. I see you've grasped the point perfectly.

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  20. Just like Yoda said... "Try not! Do, or do not. there is no try."

    If you do as you will just to, well, do it... confidence brings success.

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  21. Ren - Yes! Thanks for the perfect Yoda quote!

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  22. Good post, Paul. I think sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between desiring nothing and not working hard to make things happen. I know the best things in my life haven't been easy, and it's often felt like I was swimming upstream trying to make the changes I wanted in my life.

    But you're right - this is different from the desperation or lack of mojo that you're describing. There's something about people who obviously love what they do without seeking approval or opportunity too much that seems to encourage success. And there's also the Gary Vaynerchuck tweet you reposted on Twitter: 'Love the process and the results won't matter'.

    It struck me when I was thinking about it how similar this is to the classic Stoic philosophy. The idea of enduring misfortune without making a fuss seems to be taken by a lot of people as just accepting what life throws at you, as though it were a very passive approach. The anonymous comment above seems to be taking the same interpretation of your post. From the little I have read Stoicism, I don't think this is an accurate description. It's less passively accepting what comes your way, and more of doing what's necessary or doing what you want to do without succumbing to feelings that give that air of need you describe. That's the interpretation I get from it, anyway.

    Oh, Ren - I love the Yoda quote too. Perfect for the discussion =)

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  23. Wow Matt! I can't thank you enough for contributing so much by commenting on several of my posts today. Thanks for taking the time. Really. I draw most of my ideas about these things from Zen and Taoism, now I definitely need to read up on some stoicism. Thanks again.

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  24. Heh. I'd been saving interesting tabs for the last few weeks until I had time to read them properly. Thanks for consistently writing thought-provoking posts =)

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  25. I think desire can be positive or negative, but then again I'm not a Taoist. As Matt said, there's a difference between desperation and passion. I believe that bad desire is driven by fear -- fear of not having enough, fear of rejection, fear of failure. It's easy to get so lost in the fear that we try too hard in the wrong way and hold onto the things we do have so hard that we strangle all the life out of them. Coming from a place of confidence rather than fear, desire is about passion and hope and excitement.

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  26. Tegan - Thanks for the comment. I think I get yur point. Please correct me if I don't. If you are talking about the desire to help people, to be in the community, to connect people and ideas, I agree it can be good. The fearful desires you speak about, being motivated by selfishness, those are the ones I'm talking about trying to eliminate, though, if you were to talk to a real Taoist or Buddhist instead of some weirdo who writes a craft blog, they may tell you that desire of any kind is the root of all suffering. Thanks again for the thoughtful comment! Cheers.

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