If the Year of the Tiger (2022–2023) was a great one for this Tiger, the year of the Rabbit (2023–24) has been a complete reversal. Having been a Corporate Recruiter since starting my career in 2000, I have witnessed a lot of events including 9–11, the 2008 crisis and now a potential recession looming to start year 2023. As a Senior Technical Recruiter with Amazon/AWS, the announcement of 18k layoffs was particularly nerve wracking- after all, usually the first ones to go during a layoff are the recruiters and for sure, despite being in the top quartile for metrics, I was one of them!
Overtime, you learn that Recruiters can be worth their weight in gold when you need to hire but it’s a very “what have you done for me lately” kind of business- and in a recession, whether this is correct or not, there is a perception that maybe the recruiter is sitting around not doing anything as hiring isn’t taking place…I could write a whole other post on why this type of perception is so inaccurate (at least for me) but I digress; what I have been thinking about lately is more philosophical- specifically the Philosophy of Being and how it is tied to ones conception of controlling his or her destiny.
During my undergraduate university days studying Philosophy, I was fortunate enough to enroll in a class taught by one of my favorite Professors (Jose Huertas-Jourdas) on Chinese Philosophical Traditions. At the time, I took the class as he had a reputation for being an “easy A” however, the content I learned and the way it was delivered answered a lot of existential questions I had and changed my approach to ‘being’ helping me deal with the highs and lows of life and the rollercoaster of emotions one experiences- all through the teachings of I-Ching aka Tao Te Ching, Taoism/Daoism and the philosopher Lao-Tzu.
Lao-Tzu was an ancient Chinese philosopher and the author of the Tao Te Ching, the central text in Taoism. Lao-Tzu’s philosophy emphasized the idea of Tao, which can be roughly translated as “the way” or “the path.” According to Lao-Tzu, the Tao is the ultimate reality that underlies all existence, and it is through aligning oneself with the Tao one can achieve inner peace and live a harmonious life. Lao-Tzu’s philosophy emphasizes simplicity, humility, and the importance of letting go of desires and attachments, as these things only lead to suffering and conflict. He also advocated for following natural laws and avoiding interference in the natural order of things, as this leads to a more balanced and harmonious existence.
The introduction to Lao-Tzu and his ways of ‘being’ is drastically different to what I was indoctrinated to believe about living the good life based on western ‘modern’ philosophy which arose during the Enlightenment. Enlightenment philosophy (which began in the late 15 Century) emphasize that the individual is the author and addressee of our destiny and freedom is to act with autonomy which necessitates one to seek CONTROL and power over ones will.
Since the Enlightenment, philosophers in the West have been preoccupied with “freedom” or agency to control one's own fate. The concept of freedom became closely tied to the idea of individual rights, and the philosopher John Locke argued that individuals have a natural right to life, liberty, and property that must be protected by the state. In the 19th century, philosophers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau emphasized the importance of civic freedom, or the ability of individuals to participate in the political process and shape the laws that govern them. In the 20th century, existentialist philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre emphasized the idea of subjective freedom, or the ability of individuals to shape their own destiny through their choices and actions. Ultimately, freedom remains a complex and multi-faceted concept in western philosophy, with different thinkers emphasizing different aspects of this elusive ideal.
So we have two concepts of fate and individual freedom - one that believes in “going with the flow” and follow the “Tao” while the other emphasizes control and the ability to shape one's own destiny through choice and action. I’m not advocating one is better than the other but when either is practiced to the extreme one becomes dogmatic - it is this dogmatic philosophy to being that leads us as a social animal to a state of alienation and preponderance of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
The contrasting philosophies of fate and individual freedom, as exemplified by the teachings of Lao-Tzu’s Taoism and the Enlightenment-era Western philosophy, provide intriguing perspectives on how one should navigate the complexities of life. The Year of the Tiger (2022–2023) brought success and accomplishment, while the subsequent Year of the Rabbit (2023–24) saw an unexpected reversal, highlighting the unpredictable nature of existence. As a seasoned Corporate Recruiter, the challenges posed by economic downturns and organizational layoffs underscored the fleeting nature of professional stability.
Reflecting on these experiences, the philosophy of Lao-Tzu offers profound insights into the art of ‘being.’ The emphasis on aligning with the natural flow of existence, letting go of attachments, and embracing simplicity resonates as a timeless wisdom that guides individuals towards inner peace and harmony. On the other hand, Enlightenment philosophy champions the pursuit of individual agency, personal rights, and the quest for control over one’s destiny. This philosophy, while empowering in many ways, can also lead to an excessive focus on control and autonomy, potentially alienating individuals and fostering mental health challenges.
It is worth acknowledging that neither philosophy is inherently superior to the other; instead, a balanced approach that integrates aspects of both can provide a richer understanding of human existence. Embracing the teachings of Lao-Tzu can offer solace during times of uncertainty, reminding us to find equilibrium through acceptance and adaptability. Simultaneously, drawing from Enlightenment ideals can empower us to assert our agency and actively shape our lives.
In a world marked by constant change and unforeseen challenges, a nuanced philosophy of being emerges — one that encourages us to harmonize with the flow of circumstances while also exerting our influence when necessary. By embracing the Taoist principle of finding balance and the Enlightenment call for agency, we can navigate the highs and lows of life with a resilient spirit. As this Tiger navigates the transition from one year to another, the convergence of these philosophies offers a compass to guide the way, promoting a holistic well-being that transcends mere success or setbacks.