Tales of Tao: The Second Half

March 28, 2019

Once there was a young man who worked at a factory. His mentor, an old technician, taught him to talk less, do more, and never stop developing his skills in every aspect of the factory’s operation.

Ten years later, the old man retired, and the young man became a technician himself. He continued to do his work with the same dedication and diligence as he was taught.

One day, he visited with his mentor. The old man saw that he seemed unhappy, and asked what was troubling him.

The young man sighed and poured his heart out: “I have been following your instructions exactly all these years. No matter what I work on, I keep quiet and focus on the job. I know I have done good work at the factory, and I have learned all the skills that can be learned there. What I don’t understand is that the guys who don’t have my experience or capabilities have all been promoted, while I am still making as little as I did before, when I was your apprentice.

The old man asked: “Are you positive that you have become indispensable to the factory?”

The young man nodded: “Yes.”

The old man paced back and forth to think. After a while, he turned to the young man: “You must request a day off, using whatever reason you like. It’s time for you to give yourself a break.”

The young man was surprised by this advice, but the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. He thanked his teacher and left quickly to make a time-off request.

When he returned to work after his day off, the Manager called him into the office to tell him that things did not go well at the factory while he was gone. Others encountered many problems that normally would be handled by him, and they had no idea how to solve them. Realizing his importance, the Manager decided to promote him to the position of Senior Technician, to thank him and encourage him to keep up the good work.

The young man was grateful for his mentor’s wisdom. Surely, he thought, this was the secret to success!

From that point on, whenever the young man felt like he deserved more than what he was getting, he would take a day off. When he came back the next day, the situation would improve to his satisfaction.

This pattern continued for months. One day, the young man found that he was blocked from going into the factory. Much to his shock, he found out that his employment was terminated. He could not believe it. Not knowing what else to do, he went back to see his mentor, to try to figure out how things had gone so wrong.

“Why did I lose my job?” he asked with much wounded pride. “Did I not do everything as you instructed?”

“Actually, you did not, because you heard only half the lesson,” the old man shook his head. “You understood right away that no one pays any attention to a light bulb that is always on. It is only when it goes off that people suddenly take notice and realize they’ve been taking it for granted. You were so eager to apply this understanding that you left before hearing the second half.”

“Second half?” it began to dawn on the young man that perhaps he made a big mistake. “What was the second half?”

The mentor spoke slowly to make his point: “The second half, more important than the first, is the realization that if a light bulb goes off frequently, then sooner or later it will be replaced with one that is more reliable. Who wants a light bulb that no one can count on to provide illumination?”

The Tao

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