The day after their daughter was born Greg McKeown visited his
wife in the hospital. She had given birth to a baby girl, their
daughter. Instead of being totally present in the moment, however, he
was torn between them and work communication and ended up leaving to
go to a client meeting, a decision he came to regret.
"As it turned out, exactly nothing came out of the client
meeting. But even if it had, I would have made a fool's bargain. In
trying to keep everyone happy I had sacrificed what mattered most.
On reflection I discovered this important lesson:
If you don't
Fortunately for readers, this epiphany led McKeown to plunge
into the study of how people make personal and professional decisions
and whether there are better ways of making those constant choices.
His research culminated in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of
Basically essentialism consists of less but better. In today's
world where we are bombarded with too many choices, technology has
amped up our sense of social judgement, and there is pressure to have
it all, it's easy to try to take on every challenge and opportunity,
even those we don't want.
McKeown shows how that is an exercise in futility. He compares
life to a cluttered clothes closet--a closet in which additions are
not balanced by thinning out. Even when a purge is attempted, things
that might be useful someday are kept. In the same way, people's
lives become cluttered with acquaintances, activities, and commitments.
McKeown says that we can only do a finite amount of things well
and with a sense of peace and well being. The trick is being
proactive, knowing our most important values, and alligning time and
effort expenditures with them. Most activities need to be pruned,
even perfectly good ones, in order to give adequate space to the best.
"...There is tremendous freedom in learning that we can
eliminate the nonessentials, that we are no longer controlled by other
people's agendas, and that we get to choose. With that invincible
power we can discover our highest point of contribution, not just to
our lives and careers, but to the world."
Pretty heady stuff, huh? And that leads to the one weakness of
the book. This kind of self actualization is only available to folks
with a certain amount of economic security. It's beyond the reach of
many people, not only in third world countries, but here in the United
States. If you're a single parent working retail or fast food, for
example, life can be a constant marathon of must dos.
Anyway if you can afford to be an essentialist McKeown gives a
lot of concrete advice on how to make this life-changing transition.
He also provides ideas on how to assert values and choices without
feeling guilty and deal with people who aren't happy campers when
you're no longer available 24/7/365.
If you feel stretched too thin, if there never is enough time,
if you can't enjoy the people and activities you truly love, and if
you have the luxury of being able to decide how you spend your time,
you will find Essentialism a very worthwhile read.
On a personal note, coincidentally, it was childbirth that made an
essentialist out of me. The day after 16 hours of labor and an
emergency c section I was able to hold the most amazing baby in the
world. I fell heads over heels in love to a depth I'd never felt
possible. My life focus sharpened with amazing clarity. I said to my
husband, "I don't want to leave her." Fortunately for me he said, "I
don't want you to."
I set up a home typing business and later switched over to free
lance writing to add to our household income. Amber gained two
siblings. I was able to fit my work in with family. Even in the more
busy periods I was able to enjoy and be present for my children and
take them everywhere from library story hours to DC peace marches. My
house sometimes looked like a hurricane hit it and cooking was
simple. But my life and heart were where my treasure was. Life was
good. I have 25 years of journals to prove it.
A great big shout out and eternal thanks go to the husband who agreed
with me. Over the years he's had to work very hard to provide and do
without a lot of niceties that two incomes could have provided. I'm
sure it wasn't easy.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod