Tao Te Ching 24: Stop trying to outshine others


– 24 –

Those who stand on tiptoes

do not stand firmly.

Those who rush ahead

do not get far

Those who try to outshine others

dim their own light.

Those who are self-righteous

are not respected.

Those who boast of their accomplishments

diminish the things they have done.


When walking the path of the Tao,

these actions are unworthy

and must be left behind.



This might be termed the ‘keep your ego in check’ verse. What Lao Tzu is suggesting requires the utmost vigilance, because the actions he speaks of are things we’ve been conditioned to see as signs of power and success: rushing ahead, arrogantly trying to climb higher than everyone else, developing a solid sense of ego and displaying our accomplishments in the hope that others will recognise how ‘great’ we are.

The Taoist approach is certainly not against doing. As long as we’re alive, doing is a necessity. It’s not against doing actions to the best of our ability either, or aiming to be successful at what we do. But the attitude behind our doing is all-important. Trying to get ahead simply to make ourselves look superior is a dubious motivation and is ultimately self-defeating. When our attitude comes from a place of egotism and arrogance, our attempts to outshine others often have the opposite effect than we’d intended.

The essence of the Tao is simplicity and humility. Just do your job, Lao Tzu suggests, and let the rest go.

Why the need to constantly puff up our egos? To spend our life living in such a way ultimately just leaves us exhausted, unfulfilled and resentful. Why not just get on with it and set aside the need to be “better” than others or have our accomplishments or virtue recognised? Why not instead do our best without having to always make it be about us? This is a far less stressful way of living.

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