What is at the heart of my life? How does that relate to what’s at the heart of my work? I’ve been exploring the theme of heart here at the Writerly Play blog these past couple weeks. Like many meaningful questions, I’ve found these two to be both more complex and more simple than they seem at first glance. Essentialism by Greg McKeown takes these questions to a deeper level and challenges me to think hard about what truly matters most.
Take a moment and ask yourself: What’s most important to me?
If you’re anything like me, this exercise turns into a stream of “ands.” This and this, oh, and this … and on and on it goes. Which leads me to ask: What do I get rid of? That’s where the complexity comes in. Nearly all of the items on that “important” list are good things. Many of them are great, meaningful things. Saying no isn’t only difficult, sometimes its even painful.
If saying no is painful, why should we do it?
I first read Essentialism by Greg McKeown a couple years ago. I remember being highly attracted to the idea of less, while also holding tightly to my list of everything that’s important. Sure, I thought. I can let go of that, but not this. Or this. Or this. I made some tough decisions and made some progress, but only on the surface level. I held tight to many things that I now see I could have let go.
Say we are a flashlight and our energy is our light. When we choose to shine our light here and there and everywhere, our progress is bound to be slow. To keep things simple, let’s say we chose to keep track of three objects in the dark forest with our light, rather than five. Now, we’re much more likely to not lose any of them. And if we can choose just the one, straight ahead … so much the better.
Saying no to some things means giving a more whole-hearted yes to others.
If we’re being honest, most of us can’t limit our focus to one thing. We have family and friends, bills to pay, meaningful work to do, and our physical, emotional, spiritual and creative health to consider. However, this reality is all the more reason to be careful about saying yes. Some questions to consider include:
- Is this essential?
- If so, is this essential right now?
- Am I using the right approach, or might I achieve the same outcome in a more effective way?
Learning to focus is a process, not a one-time change.
This week, Donald Miller interviewed Greg McKeown on the Storybrand podcast. I was relieved to hear that even for Greg, Essentialism has been a process. It’s a discipline, a practice, a lifelong pursuit. There’s hope!
Even a brief pause in the frenetic momentum of my life allowed me to see that one project that has dominated my to-do list recently is probably not the highest use of me. While it’s an important project, there is opportunity to involve others in the project and make the work–and the connections that come from the work–more meaningful to a larger group of people.
I was excited to see that Greg put together a 21-day challenge to make the pursuit of Essentialism practical and approachable. As you surely know by now, I love practical strategies! I highly recommend the podcast and the corresponding cheat sheet.
If you do listen to the podcast, I’d love to hear what insights show up for you! I learn so much by viewing creative challenges through alternate perspectives. Feel free to post your thoughts below, or tag me on social media. You can find me on Facebook and Twitter.
Here’s to you and your creative heart!