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Hashtag of the Year: 2020 Edition

Alex Hsi
December 30th, 2019 · 3 min read

My Hashtag of the Year for 2019 was #ThouMayest. I adopted it from the passage in Steinbeck’s East of Eden where he talks about the varying translations of the word Timshel in different versions of the Bible. Upon study, one finds that the translations of the word Timshel varies in a really powerful way across the American Standard translation, the King James translation, and the Hebrew translation:

“Don’t you see? The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in “Thou shalt,” meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel–‘Thou mayest’–that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’–it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’ Don’t you see?”

It is a really interesting examination of the different possible interpretations of the way that man has been instructed to live his life. I find it to so personally resonate with me because I’m a strong believer in the power of narrative, and that the translation of this single word can have such a profound impact on the lens that one sees the world through.

Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” Lee’s voice was a chant of triumph.

‘Thou Mayest’ as opposed to ‘Do Thou’ or ‘Thou Shalt’ - the power of choice over blind obedience, requirement, or predestination. For 2019, I took the concept of Thou Mayest one step further for myself and cast it as a blessing that I should allow myself to do things, allow myself to indulge, allow myself to explore. ‘Thou Mayest’ became less of a sense of choice and more of a blessing of allowance.

Armed with that narrative, my 2019 was filled with open exploration, commitment, and celebration and it was what I was seeking for the year.

Now that we are closing out this last year and decade, my hashtag for the new year in 2020 is #ChopWoodCarryWater. It comes from this Zen Kōan:

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.

After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.

That particularly resonated with me this year after searching for a business to acquire, acquiring a company, running the business day to day, selling the company, and returning to a place of exploration for new opportunities. It is a reminder that that thing that we might seek after and think is the ultimate goal, whether it’s enlightenment or material success or achievement, is often temporary. After the initial celebration or transition period, you sort of settle back into what it was that you wanted or drove you or haunted you before or after. Or you level up, or reset, but find yourself back on the journey. There is a reminder in there that it’s the journey, not the destination. But I like this more nuanced approach better because it’s also a reminder that what satisfies or sustains you or sets you up for enlightenment before, is also what you may actually find yourself returning to after. And if that may actually not change, then perhaps all there really is to it is just chopping wood and carrying water. It’s definitely very zen.

For 2020, my narrative version of Chop Wood, Carry Water is to return to the basics. To show up and do the work. And not to get too caught up in where we are in this point in time, in this start of a new decade, in this stage of the cycle or the markets, etc. It’s to focus on the fundamentals, to chop wood and carry water, and to continue on the consistent march before, during, and after enlightenment.

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