Last Updated: Feb 7, 2021 3 min read

Is your cup empty?​

Is your cup empty?​

Seems like a silly question to ask, but it’s essential. Are you in a state of mind where you are always ready to be humble and learn?

Scholar Tokusan–who was full of knowledge and opinions about the dharma–came to Ryutan and asked about Zen. At one point Ryutan re-filled his guest’s teacup but did not stop pouring when the cup was full. Tea spilled out and ran over the table. “Stop! The cup is full!” said Tokusan. “Exactly,” said Master Ryutan. “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.” (s)

There’s this notion that once we’ve mastered something, then we’ve made it. It’s entirely crap, but many believe it, nonetheless. When it comes to growing your business, mastering skills for your day job or learning a hobby, always being in a state of mind that allows you to continue learning has a couple of profound effects.

It’s humbling.

When we’re in learning mode, we check our egos at the door. Once we’ve stopped learning (let alone being open to the idea of learning) we get this bug in our heads that says we’re hot shit now and everything we know is right. It doesn’t matter how many years of experience you have, how many businesses you’ve created, how many millions you’ve earned. You’re just as weak and frail as the rest of us; pretending you’ve hit some upper echelon of greatness because you learned all there is to learn is a fool’s errand. The bigger you are, the harder you falland all that.

When we’re always in learning mode, we’re humble. We’re more willing to accept the teachings, ideas, opinions, and conversations from those around us, especially those in like-minded or similar niches; this is a massive problem in the e-commerce selling game. All too often someone finally “makes it” (whatever that means) and suddenly everyone that’s not them no longer have value. This is a recipe for failure, I’ve seen it happen: you get sloppy and make a mistake, the house of cards falls, welcome back to the ground floor.

Stay humble and accept you don’t (and won’t ever) know everything and watch how successful you become. It seems counter-intuitive, but trust me, it’s a massively good feeling to see oneself grow while simultaneously not being the master of all things.

Exponential personal and professional growth only happens without blinders.

Continuing on that topic, always being hungry and willing to learn (or keeping your “cup” empty) will open your eyes to perspectives you wouldn’t have otherwise thought about. New ideas, ways of thinking, processes, tricks, etc. are all of a sudden at your fingertips. The reality is they never left, but now that you’ve removed the blinders, it’s magically within your metaphorical field of vision.


In a visual form, this is not dissimilar to the Yerkes-Dodson Law (a.k.a the Inverted-U Theory). What Yerkes and Dodson surmised is that as a person grows in a particular area, they’re most performance when they’re being challenged, but only moderately. If one’s not challenged enough (you think you’ve learned it all) or too much (you aren’t open to new ideas, and yours don’t seem to be working for some crazy reason), performance decreases.

Bringing the metaphorical cup back into play, we perform well when the “cup” is empty but are willing to fill it up. We deliver our best results when we’re actively engaged and ready to consume knowledge and experience.

All these words I’ve spewed all might seem like a no-brainer, and if it does, then you’re already on the right track… be sure yourcup doesn’t end up full in the process. It’s unfortunately still surprising to some and others aren’t quite at the point where they’re willing to admit their cup is full and overflowing. It takes time and is by no means a mindset to be shameful of. Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, is an absolute must-read on this topic if your cup is empty and you’re ready, nay hungryfor a deep dive on the subject.

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