I quietly shelved plans to hike yesterday. Thunderstorms in the forecast, friends coming over, yard work to do… you know: excuses. Instead I did projects and regretted not getting out there and hiking. Lesson learned. But the bulkhead looks better than it ever has with a fresh coat of paint and the lawn has been cut and treated to prevent grubs, which are the offspring of the Japanese Beetle, an invasive species that can ruin the garden and the lawn alike. The plan was for the soaking rains forecast for the day to soak in the chemicals, but the rain never came in Southern New Hampshire, instead tracking north and south of us. The drought continues. Progress on the hiking paused. Seeing pictures of my cousin hiking one of the 4000 footers and describing the perfect conditions completed the thoughts on what might have been. But hey, the bulkhead looks nice.
I admire the people who just say no: Thanks for inviting me to go to the party, but nope, I’m going mountain biking instead. Thanks for the generous offer to join your company, but no, I’ll stick with what I’m doing now. I’d love to participate in that Teams meeting you’ve organized, but I’m using that time to develop a strategy for growing this other business. Focus on the specific and elimination of the unnecessary go hand-in-hand. My mind tends to add more stuff. More books to read, more projects to finish, more people to see, more commitments to honor. More excuses for not doing the things that I wanted to prioritize. The answer is simplicity. Elimination of the extraneous. Essentialism, as Greg McKeown would call it. I’ve read that book and a few others on this idea of boiling life down to the most important things. It seems I’m highly resistant to adopting this concept. Exhibit A: Attempting to add recertification in scuba diving to my list. Exhibit B: Downloading War and Peace to add to the virtual pile of books to tackle, even as the other 100 titles whisper WTF? to each other… if books could whisper anyway. Exhibit C: Adding Portuguese to my list of languages on Duolingo even as I just barely skim the surface of fluency in French ( I confess I like the challenge of two languages at the same time). Shall I go on? No? Got it.
I’m quietly scheming to check some boxes in the next month. Not faraway places boxes – no, that’s not possible just yet. But pretty substantial boxes nonetheless. Meaningful, if only to me. So, the experts tell me, in order to complete a few of those tasks I need to get better at saying no to other tasks, and knowing what to prioritize:
“Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” – Greg McKeown, Essentialism
“Don’t be on your deathbed someday, having squandered your one chance at life, full of regret because you pursued little distractions instead of big dreams.” – Derek Sivers, Anything You Want
“Doing less is the path of the productive.” – Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Workweek
“We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.” – Marie Kondō, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
“Simplicity is so attractive and so profitable that it is strange that so few people lead truly simple lives.” – Leo Tolstoy
“Being poor is not having too little, it is wanting more.” – Seneca
So keeping things simple and focusing on the big dreams instead of little distractions seems to be the consensus amongst our panel of experts. Alas, this remains my achilles heal, the mindset and behavior I work to overcome. I don’t believe I’m alone in this one, judging from the success of the modern authors on this panel of experts or the timelessness of the older panel members. You believe adding more is the answer, when really it’s just the opposite. Lesson heard once again, but not yet mastered. But we’re all works in progress, aren’t we?
There are lifetime “go big” dreams and short-term priorities. They should ultimately be pulling you in the same general direction. Want to be a healthy and vibrant centurion? Hiking, stress elimination and keeping the mind sharp through reading, travel and language learning seem to be a good path. Want to complete that bucket list of places to go before you go? Spend less time and money on stuff that doesn’t matter as much and book the trip already. Vienna waits for you. Want to write that book? Write every day and experience more so you have a full well of ideas to tap into. Want to have a healthy, lifetime marriage? Choose every day to nurture it and keep it alive: Hug more than you bicker, listen more than you talk, sprinkle quiet magic into the minutes as they add up to a lifetime. In short, keeping it simple gives you a full enough bucket to accomplish the things that really matter, and maybe to reach your potential. At the very least you’ll live a more interesting and less stressful life.