Empty Your Cup

There’s a famous proverb that is observed by some of the most respected leaders in your life. It sounds so simple, yet can be so difficult: Empty Your Cup.

A scholar visited a Zen master for enlightenment and advice. It was quickly obvious the scholar was full of his own opinions and knowledge. He interrupted the master repeatedly with his own stories and failed to hear to what the master had to say.

The master calmly suggested that they should have tea and began to pour. When the cup was full, he poured until it overflowed, onto the table, onto the floor, and quietly continued to pour.

The scholar cried “Stop! The cup is already full!”

The Zen master replied with a smile. “Exactly. This is you. So full of ideas that nothing more will fit in. Come back to me with an empty cup.”

Some of the people closest to you, those trusted experts, the ones you look to for wisdom based on their years of experience – they are the people who understand the importance of emptying their cups.

An easy way to judge how well you empty your cup is to consider how you receive feedback. When someone suggests you try something another way, or gives input that makes you bristle, how do you respond? Do you find yourself dismissive of their comments? Do you interrupt them? Are you waiting for your chance to speak so you can defend your stance or actions? Do you turn the conversation around to focus on them? If those are your default responses, you’re not emptying your cup enough to take away anything of value from the conversation.

To learn, to truly learn new lessons, you must make space for them in your life. By learning how to empty your cup you can open yourself to incredible new understandings. It’s a skill valued by some of the most expert people you know. They haven’t become expert based solely on their experiences, they’ve been able to grow exponentially because they know how to empty their cups enough to learn from the experiences of others too.

I hope many of you will join me in kicking off the new year by striving to empty our cups every day to better learn from the perspectives of others.


Jennifer Rzepka, CAE is President of Association Resource Center, Inc. (ARC). She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Management from the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and the Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential since 2010. She is an active member of the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE), the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and has been with ARC for twenty years. ARC has fourteen staff members and manages nineteen associations.