The Tao of Who?
Like most people, I read a book that had a profound influence on me right after college. From a former English major and grad student, you’re probably expecting one of the typical favorites: Ulysses, War and Peace, maybe even Too Kill a Mockingbird. But no, The Dao of Pooh is not likely to make it onto any syllabus--but that’s probably a consequence of elitism rather than merit.
The book explains the basic tenets of Taoism through the humble lens of Winnie the Pooh. While the drawings and imaginary conversations between the author and the denizens of the 100-Acre Wood are charming, my appreciation for the book grew out of a singular piece of advice.
Wu-Wei, or non-action, describes a philosophy in which you live effortlessly. Don’t be fooled: it doesn’t mean you lounge on your mom’s sofa all week, munching Pringles and watching Netflix. Instead, think of it as existing in a non-contrived manner, of not pushing too hard. Ultimately, wu-wei is about navigating the fine line between giving up too early and repeatedly hitting your head against a brick wall. Earlier this week, I was definitely on the verge of concussion.
I was tasked with writing a design tutorial—not for Joie, but for a Wordpress theme development company. For someone already familiar with the theme—which is a sort of website template--it would have been a matter of dreaming up an attractive design (I was styling an audio player module) and writing out the steps it takes to replicate it.
Although I am familiar with Wordpress, this theme was a whole new animal. How do I add new modules? What does that wacky little icon mean? Where do I input custom CSS? It took hours of Wordpress spelunking before I even had a handle on the product about which I was writing.
Fast-forward two cups of coffee later. Although I was by no means an expert, I at least knew my way around the interface and could toggle the properties of the infamous audio module.
Being Type-A, my next thought was, “Ok, let’s jump into design and crank out this tutorial.”
What a terrible idea. I spent another couple of hours—fueled by three cups of green tea—struggling to devise some innovative way to jazz up this audio player—basically a triangular “play” button above a progress bar. As I drained my last cup of tea down to the leaves, not even sky-high levels of antioxidants were easing my frustration. I decided to table the project until the following day, even though it went against my “knock-it-out-now” work ethic.
In hindsight, it was the best decision I could have made. The next day, I sat down at my Macbook Pro and the creative juices started flowing almost immediately. I would create a celestially-inspired audio player for a fictitious inter-galactic solar rock band, The Space Pirates. I completed the remainder of the project in half the time it took for me to learn my way around the product during my first attempt. Within an hour, The Space Pirates had a fancy landing page where visitors could listen to a sample of their debut album, FTL.
This experience reminded me of The Dao of Pooh—that sometimes, once you’ve put in a laudable effort and still make no head-way, it is better to step away. Since we've already crossed the line into "low-brow," I think I'll end with another Disney reference: hakuna matata, everyone.