I used to be very focused. And even though I really love what my life has become, I was even happier then than I am now. I believe now that it was because I lived with so much clarity and focus. At the time I had realized that full time medicine just wasn’t for me, and that I’d have to find another way to make my living. I put myself on an intense mission. I needed to identify my true passions and strengths, develop them, and find ways to make income from them. I wanted to write a book and earn income freelance writing, wanted to become a professional speaker, wanted to dance professionally, and wanted to live in a tropical climate (where cost of living would be lower, too). Check, check, check, check, check – all accomplished.
I think in a way I surprised myself by achieving all of these dreams, and once I achieved them I didn’t really have a game plan. I love my life, for sure, and still pinch myself all the time, but there wasn’t any massive goal I was reaching for anymore. I was just enjoying the fruits of the mission accomplished.
Yet if you don’t have a plan, the natural current of life (and others’ plans for your life) will start to drag you off course. It happens so gradually, you don’t even notice it.
When you’re not laser focused on where you’re going and what matters most, you don’t know how to best spend your days. There are so many good things in life that we can be doing. Most of us don’t actively choose, we just say yes to whatever seems like a good thing. We don’t realize that in order to have a truly sane, balanced, happy, healthy life we need to say no to a lot of good things. A lot.
We need to know what we want more of in life, in order to know what good things to say no to. If life is going along pretty well, there isn’t much pressure to focus on essentials. Desperation or illness or loss can be a great motivator, as you are forced to identify priorities – not so if things are just humming along normally.
I noticed in the last year or so that my life was becoming unmanageable. There were so many different opportunities, so many people contacting me for help or advice, and of course I tried to juggle as many as I could. Big mistake. I was barely hanging on by my fingernails by the end of the year. I eventually developed symptoms of reflux (GERD) from the crazy pace and lack of focus. I was all over the place, and my body finally told me that things had to change. Thank goodness for the body, it doesn’t let us get away with it for long when we’re way out of balance.
I took a deeply restful vacation over the holidays, and started reading the book Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. It was exactly what I needed and is the inspiration behind this post.
Here are some of my favorite quotes from McKeown’s book:
1) “Pause and evaluate the request against a tougher criteria: ‘Is this the very most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?'”
Asking this question is truly revolutionary. Look at what you’ve done today, and are planning to do, and evaluate each activity according to this standard. Shocking, isn’t it?
Of course, in order to identify the “very most important thing” you should be doing with your time and resources, you have to know what’s most important to your life and what you want to achieve. And this isn’t just about work. For me two of my very top priorities are physical and mental health, so sometimes the very most important thing I can be doing is taking a nap, or going for a walk, or playing with my nephews on a waterslide, like I did this afternoon.
2) “The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better…it is about pausing constantly to ask, ‘Am I investing in the right activities?’…most are trivial and few are vital.”
What in your life is trivial? You likely need to radically change your idea of trivial.
3) “I have coached ‘successful’ people in the quiet pain of trying desperately to do everything, perfectly, now.”
I believe this describes so many people today. Even if you’re doing what you absolutely love, if you’re doing way too much and not filtering opportunities aggressively enough, you’re sure to be depleting your resources. You’re not doing anything as well as you could, and the stress and exhaustion that underlies this way of living causes a chronic, quiet pain. It’s like you know something’s off but aren’t sure what it is. So, you just keep trying to do everything, trying to keep it all afloat, while slowly sinking.
4)“The effect of our success has been to undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.”
This is exactly what happened to me, once I had achieved my biggest life goals I gradually lost my clarity. It’s time to get that clarity back, and I’m excited about what that will mean for the next half of my life. Are you living with clarity? Do you know why you make the choices you do throughout your days? Are you just reacting to what life throws at you all day long, trying to hit each ball out of the park before the next one flies at you?
5) “I challenge you here and now to make a commitment to make room to enjoy the essential. Do you think for one second you will regret such a decision?”
I think that this decision could be one of the very best you make in your entire life. The essential is what matters, and it constantly gets squeezed out by what’s “urgent”, what’s in your face. Enough already. Let’s live with more space, let’s slash and burn the nonessential to create space for matters most.
The most important people and activities in your life deserve the most of you. This way of living and choosing will help you to be your best, as well.
And that’s what’s best for everyone around you: A focused, sane, healthy you, functioning at your best, doing what matters most.