Over the last eight months, I’ve been wrestling with a combination of Bright-Shiny-Objectisis and existential/professional angst. The root of the problem was a sense of restlessness. The restlessness arose from twelve years of involvement in Outdoorplay and seven years of QuietSpacing® efforts. Done enough times, all things lose their luster. Such was the case with these two endeavors.
I kept getting distracted by new and exciting topics – simplicity, lifestyle choices, Tenkara fly fishing. Instead of focusing on my core business of developing solid content to help my clients solve their time management struggles, I was drafting tables of contents for new books and making lists of authors to read and people to follow.
Thank gawd for my National Speakers Association Master Mind group – Viki Hess, Jeff Civillico and Liz Weber. During one of our monthly calls the resounding consensus regarding my efforts to cobble together these disparate objectives was that I was creating very muddy professional waters indeed. And, as I once heard the famous speaker Mark Sanborn say, “A confused buyer buys nothing.”
My peers advised me to pursue new ways to communicate my topical expertise – time management and productivity – and to seek ways to incorporate my other aspirations into my own life. In a way, they advised me to separate my professional focus from my personal focus. Stated differently: Not everything needs to be revenue source, Paul!
Out of the mouths of babes…er…professionals.
Most people will tell you that I’m a bit of a slow starter. Ideas take time to germinate in my brain before flowering into action. The same was true for the advice I’d received.
In fact, it wasn’t until several weeks later, while driving from our winter digs to our summer digs, that clarity was achieved. What I needed to do was to Live Simply. As a “process guy,” I naturally pursue the most efficient way to accomplish the stated goal. Many times finding that path results in a truly elegant or simple solution. Thus, marrying my predisposition for process with living simply is wholly congruent. The congruence lies in my belief that that simplicity is arrived at ONLY after gaining an understanding of the complexity of the very thing we are attempting to simplify – in this case, my lifestyle!
Elimination is part of achieving simplicity – the removal of things that are unnecessary to the journey. However, reduction is just the beginning of the journey to finding the elegant solution – that perfect intersection between the form of the “answer” and the function of the “answer” – again, true simplicity.
With the excess baggage eliminated, the challenging part begins. Prejudice and judgment must be identified and removed. Habit and custom must be acknowledged. Information – useful and not – must be accounted for and incorporated or discarded. True motivation must be ferreted out. Self-honesty is mandatory and the discoveries made are as often displeasing as pleasant.
Over the last few years, I’d been reducing and eliminating things in my life. I have stopped taking up new sports and now focus my time on the ones I really enjoy – golfing and fly fishing. Not only did I stop spending money on new gear, I stopped breaking myself physically so much, which requires recovery time and its associated time away from those activities. Moreover, I was no longer running up the often-stressful learning curve. Rather, I was enjoying more time on the golf course and small water creeks engaging in activities that I was already competent at doing. I had decided on the What.
We had also identified our long-term summer and winter spots. This reduced the ongoing discussion and preoccupation with the Where question. It also reduced the associated expenses with changing locations every year or two.
Interestingly, determining the Where and What drove the ability to reduce the stuff needed in my life. Unused gear, clothing, furniture, etc. were all donated to charity. In its place came physical and mental quiet. There were simply fewer things physically and intellectually with which to concern myself.
I was also free to pursue more deeply new ways to doing old things – rejoin the legions of golfers hitting the latest driver (having abandoned that effort years ago in favor of my 5 iron) and investigate Tenkara (radically simple fly fishing from ancient Japan.) And it wasn’t just sports oriented. We found more time to be tourists in our own towns – doing all the things the tourists do but we had never found time to do. All these things where the How.
With the big questions resolved, I am focusing my ongoing Live Simply efforts on the way I work and the tools I use. There is so much evidence that supports the idea that people work best (produce the most) in short, intense cycles with periods of recovery in between. This was, in fact, the underlying conclusion to the study Malcolm Gladwell cited in his book Outliers. (Note, for those interested in a comprehensive discussion of this theory, as well as many related ideas, see The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working by Tony Schwartz.)
Not only am I looking at working shorter bursts followed by recovery periods, I’ve also reduced the number of technologies required to engage in my work. Gone is the Windows machine that required so many peripherals – all plugged into sockets creating a fire hazard in my home office. In its place is a MacBook Pro with a blue tooth keyboard and track pad. Gone is the software programs installed on my computer. In their place is cloud-computing – from Office 365 to MyERP with a shot of Dropbox thrown in for good measure. Everything resides in a browser. Big Iron, Thin Client. What goes around comes around.
Living simply is hard but not in a deprivation sense. It’s hard in a conceptualization sense. To achieve and maintain a simple life, one must dig down into the complex aspects of life and, with a surgical focus, ask whether each aspect is necessary and if so, whether it’s been accomplished in the most effective and efficient manner. Only after a studied and educated analysis can simplicity in life be achieved.
The best question to start with is, “What is it that I really want?”
Having separated my personal aspirations to Live Simple from my professional objectives to help people make the most of the time they have, I began to see numerous ways to re-engage with my subject matter expertise. I attribute this refresh flood of ideas to freeing up my clogged brain from the angst of trying to tie it all together. Ironically, once I quieted my own mind, engagement naturally took over.
I was able to apply a lot of simple living concepts to my work efforts. Not only did I de-clutter my work space (fewer peripherals, cables, etc.) and less software, I also abandoned a number of efforts that I thought were helping me from a marketing stand point. Out went Twitter and auto-submission services. The people who make decisions about hiring me don’t spend much time hanging out in social media sites. (Note, I’ve reduced my Facebook activity to just my friends – people I really to want to stay connected to.) In effect, I re-focused my efforts to what made my QuietSpacing® practice successful in the first place:
- Creating Content
- Building Relationships
- Solving Client Issues with Time Management
It’s easy to get lost in the technology and the next great thing. Most of us have to develop a basic understanding of how all these things work. (I must go a step further and glean an understanding of how they positively and adversely affect my client’s day.) Beyond that, it’s up to each of us to determine whether the bright shiny object actually adds value to our days and to our lives. If it doesn’t, it should be discarded and replaced with other things that do add value.
The net result of this cleansing and re-focusing of my professional efforts is a terrific sense of engagement. Personally, I hate the word “passionate” as it relates to our work. I used it here to get your attention since it’s the vogue concept to promote…this week.
My opinion is that it’s less about passion and much, much more about engagement. Maybe I’m just mincing words, but I believe causes require passion. Work isn’t (and shouldn’t be) a cause. Work, to be enjoyable, requires engagement. And, further on that topic, there’s no reason we can’t or shouldn’t like work. Most of us will do it for a long time, so why not enjoy it!
You’ve undoubtedly noticed that there was a stripping down process in getting back to being engaged. Again, what goes around comes around. There’s even more similarity between these personal and professional efforts. To become engaged in my work, I’ve had to root around in its particulars to determine what about helping people with their time management struggles is so interesting to me. It could be the process – finding an efficient and effective route to get through it all each day. It could be watching them regain a sense of command in their day. It could be the downstream feedback I get that they feel more successful or that they have received recognition of their efforts.
No. All of these things are great, but they aren’t what engage me. What engages me is the idea that we only have so much time and we need to make the best use of the time we have. Taking this one extra step, we can say that memories – snapshots of time – are how we will measure the use of our time.
Thus, a successful life is one measured at its end by the one living that life. Memories will be how we will measure our success when we ask the question, “Did I make good use of the time I had?”
In my case, being engaged means that I am making good memories of the time I spend working.
Stated most simply: Memories are the currency of life. The question to ask is, “Am I making good memories?”
Post-Script – Personal Experience is My Kernel
Over the couple of days it’s taken me to craft this missive, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with three very important people in my life with whom I rarely get to hang out. During the course of my discussions with them, the topic of engagement in work and personal life came up several times.
The great thing about meaningful conversation is that one is forced to put ideas into a linear framework (sentences) that make sense. As Aristotle maintained, discourse is the true nature of being human. And it was during those conversations that I discovered an even deeper truth about myself. That truth was that I am drawn both professionally and personally to Personal Experience. Whether it’s the music I listen to, the movies I watch, the books I read, or the people with whom I wish to maintain relations, it always boils down to my interest in the Personal Experience being described.
Though opinionated (what lawyer isn’t!), I rarely care much about politics or social causes or sports or a host of other areas of the human experience. What I most gravitate to is the personal experience of the individual. This revelation is significant only to me in its subject matter, but it’s hugely relevant to the topic of this article because it’s what I’ve long referred to as the Kernel.
The Kernel is my way of describing – in one or two words – the thing that drives you forward. Unlike “passion” which has a lot of puppies and daisies associated with it, a Kernel is at the core of your personality and motivation. Discovering a Kernel takes a tremendous amount of patient introspection, fearlessness, exposure, and interaction with others on the subject. It’s less about honesty, though that plays a role, and more about clearing out the layers that are built onto of the Kernel.
In my case, I always thought my Kernel was “time.” Helping people make the most of their time and making the most of my time. Then, over the course of these recent discussions, it dawned on me that time was a layer on top of “personal experience.” What I really enjoyed hearing and what I really sought for myself were interesting personal experiences. Helping people make the most of their time was a means to achieving that end!
Take-Aways From This Tome
Having pontificated for over two thousand words, I owe the patient few who reached this point a concise and cogent conclusion. Here’s my best shot:
- Living simply is about stripping away the unnecessary and focusing on the intriguing.
- Working passionately is about finding ways to be engaged in your work so that you’re creating good memories from it.
- Relentless pursuit and discovery of your personal Kernel will drive more engagement and contentment in your life than every other endeavor.
An even shorter summation may be: Life Life On Purpose.