The Cup That Must Overflow

One of Bruce Lee’s favorite stories was the tale of the learned man: An educated man visited a Zen teacher only to not listen to his ideas and constantly interrupt him. During a tea break, the teacher kept pouring tea into the learned man’s cup – until it began overflowing. “Stop!” the learned man yelled. “Can’t you see the cup is full?” “Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions,” the teacher said. “If you do not first empty yourself, how can you taste my cup of tea?”

As someone who published a whole newsletter and is now writing a book around the idea of “emptying your cup,” I never would have thought there might be another cup in our lives where overflowing is the appropriate state for it to be in – but there is.

After rapper Russ created his music label DIEMON with his best friend Bugus, they took on several new members. Some of them released several songs, others shipped only one project. Some never published anything. The one behavior they all shared? They quit.

Russ and Bugus really believed in their members. They hyped them as much as they could. They saw a lot of talent in them, but the members themselves did not.

“Picture self-belief as a cup,” Russ suggests in his mini-memoir. “My cup, along with Bugus’s, was running over. We had enough to spare.” The members’ cups, however? “They had holes in them! We would try to pour our belief into them before realizing our attempts were futile.”

The big lesson Russ learned was that “this world doesn’t bet on talent. It bets on people who bet on themselves.”

When it comes to learning, understanding others, and making good judgments, keep your cup empty. Taste all flavors of tea before you jump to conclusions. With regards to believing in yourself, however, I hope your cup will overflow till kingdom – or success, or freedom, or peace – come.

Let one cup stay empty, the other filled to the brim. Be both humble and relentless. That is the balance we need to keep walking – whether it is to the home of a famous teacher or the studio in which we’ll record our next song.