Lao Tzu and Black Sabbath

The Tao of Doom

Andrew Macrae
3 min readMay 16, 2021


Photo by Datingjungle on Unsplash

Working without effort

I recently started dipping in to the Tao Te Ching again.

I first encountered it in my 20s, and it had a really powerful effect on me. All those seeming paradoxes somehow speak to the truth of being an effective human.

One paradox in particular that puzzled me the first time around, but which I now begin to grasp, is Lao Tzu’s dictum to ‘act without doing; work without effort’.

What does that even mean?

In our productivity-optimised culture, it seems absurd.

How can you accomplish anything without action and effort?

During my slacker phase in my 20s, I would have interpreted this incorrectly as a form of passivity.

But now that I’m older, I can see that ‘work without effort’ is indeed possible.

I think there are three parts to it:

  • loving what you do
  • being really good at what you do
  • being authentic.

Love what you do

When you love what you do, it feels like play.

When you’re playing, you’re in the moment, and things get done without any pushing or striving.

Become an expert

Related to this, when you get really good at what you do — when you’ve put in the hours it takes to become an expert — the work happens automatically, almost without conscious intervention.

This is the lesson from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work on flow states. Beginners can’t access flow state, because they’re self-conscious.

When you’re an expert, you get absorbed in your task, and it becomes effortless.

Be yourself

Finally, when you’re being your authentic self, when you’re not playing a part or trying to meet others’ expectations, you don’t second guess yourself in your work relationships.

You don’t have to think about what to say. The right words just come naturally because…



Andrew Macrae

Freelance writer and editor. Sign up for my newsletter about writing, freelancing and whatever is worrying me