Question: What do a dictator and an annoying house guest have in common?
Answer: They do not know when to leave.
The recent unrest in Egypt has set me thinking. It is not easy to let go and call it quits. In fact, it is far easier to overstay our welcome only to find ourselves thrown out. In social settings, we may have the awareness needed to know when to go. But when the situation involves money and power, it is harder to know where to draw the line. This problem is not only common in our age. Countless people before us have clung onto power and money longer than they should. In fact, thousands of years ago, Lao Zi addressed this issue in the Tao Te Ching.
Tao Te Ching Chapter 9
-Translation by J. H. McDonald
It is easier to carry an empty cup
than one that is filled to the brim.
The sharper the knife
the easier it is to dull.
The more wealth you possess
the harder it is to protect.
Pride brings its own trouble.
When you have accomplished your goal
simply walk away.
This is the pathway to Heaven.
Why We Must Know When to Let Go
As Lao Zi wisely pointed out, when we take anything to excess, it is bound to cause problems. That which was useful and good becomes a hindrance and a burden. If we could just accomplish our goals and walk away, how much simpler would life be? This idea applies to many areas in life including relationships, gatherings, careers and even world events. With this in mind, there are three reasons why we should never overstay our welcome.
1. To Maintain Healthy Relationships
Imagine a party. Initially the host welcomes the guests and everyone has a good time. But all parties have a beginning and an end. As it grows late, the guests will start to leave for home. If a stubborn guest refuses to go after everyone else has left, he could turn into an unwelcome nuisance.
Life is all about relationships. This could include our family, friends, colleagues and customers. Our success in life depends on these very people because it is not just what you know but whom you know. It is therefore critical that you have their support. But when you overstay your welcome or push your luck too far, the people who once enjoyed your company will soon feel otherwise. In such cases, whatever kindly feelings they may have of you will change for the worse. Knowing when to press forth and back off ensures healthy relationships.
2. To Avoid Causing Needless Problems
When we go to extremes and overstay our welcome, two scenarios can happen. Firstly, we can end up becoming a redundant nuisance. In such cases, we may inconvenience the people around us. Secondly, we could cause needless problems by trying to justify our stay. In the process, we could end up saying the wrong things or causing problems for others due to our actions.
3. To Avoid Extreme Measures
A glance through the history of humankind reveals countless revolutions. Why is this so? It is because rulers grew too fond of their power and profited at the expense of those they were supposed to serve. When the rulers lost the Mandate of Heaven, they alienated their people who rose up to remove them.
If we do not leave of our own accord, others will show us or throw us out of the door. They may begin with subtle measures at first. But as frustration mounts, they may resort to more extreme measures to make us go away. When a situation degenerates to such an extent, it can be unpleasant for everyone involved. We may well strain relationships to breaking point in the process. If these ties matter to us, if we do not wish to lose all that we have in an ugly struggle, we should leave when it is time to go. This applies to personal, work and worldly affairs.
How to Let Go
1. Clarity of Goals and Purpose
A successful trader needs to know which stocks to trade, when to enter the trade and when to get out of the trade. To guide him, he has clearly defined goals and a set of rules to follow. This game plan helps him to make decisions that are favourable for him. If he does not stick to his game plan, he could lose all that he has.
Stop when you have achieved your goal or leave when the going is good. Going beyond your goals is not always prudent. Good times will not last indefinitely. If you miss the moment to withdraw, good times could easily change to bad. When that happens, you may end up losing everything you achieved.
Greed has caused the downfall of many throughout history. To prevent greed from getting the better of us, we need to have clear goals. The need for clarity about our goals cannot be overstated. If we go past the mark, and keep on going, we could easily overextend ourselves and end up being vulnerable. It is critical to plan, have clear goals and stick to that plan at every stage of our lives. Every step of the way we should always ask ourselves what comes next. Without a goal or plan, we will end up at the mercy of the fates.
2. The Importance of Timing
It is important to be aware of the times around us. Life moves in cycles. Day follows night, night follows day. Good times follow bad times and vice versa. In any situation, there is a beginning, a midpoint and an end. This can apply to the growth of a human being, career, company, event etc. When the times favour us, we should make full use of it. In the event that the times move against us, we should already have an exit strategy in place. Nothing lasts forever. To think otherwise and to live as if this was the case will only cause us to become rigid and unable to react to change. By then, it is a matter of too little, too late.
3. The Importance of Value
Change does not happen out of the blue. Before any change happens, there will be signs that precede it. These signs could well be feedback from people or some other form of data. In order to stay in touch and to act in accordance with reality, we must heed these warnings as they come. Here, it is important that we keep a close eye on the value we provide.
Whether it is ruling a country, running a business or making conversation, we have to provide value to others. If we cannot do this, it is only a matter of time before overstay our welcome. The form that value takes depends on the context. In terms of business, it could be great customer support. In terms of government, it could be ensuring the prosperity of the nation. In terms of friendship, it could be support through dark times. Whatever the case, we have to find ways to provide value to others to remain relevant.
4. Impermanence and Detachment
Letting go and walking away is not easy especially if we invest a lot into something. Take our loved ones for example. No matter how attached we are to them, there will always be a day when death separates us. This is a fact that none of us can avoid. Seen in this light, everything we have and achieve in life is impermanent. This does not mean that we should not strive for success. We need to do so for our own sakes and for the sakes of our loved ones. After all, our time together is short, so we have to make the best of each moment we have. If we can live each moment to the fullest, we will have less regrets and be able to let go when the time comes.
Do you have trouble letting go of things that mean a lot to you? Are there any other reasons we should not overstay our welcome? What other ideas and suggestions do you have to help us let go? Do share your thoughts and comments below.