"The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials." — Lin Yutang
I recently read Greg McKeown's masterpiece Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. In the past I've enjoyed reading articles and books about minimalism and applying these principles to my life. For me, minimalism is about having less, purchasing higher quality items and becoming more disciplined in how I spend my time, money and energy. It helps me to reign in my wanting desires for things and fill my life with what really matters instead.
After reading McKeown's book, I began to see a distinction between minimalism and essentialism — and how they build off of each other. What I love about essentialism is that it focuses on having and doing less, and on curating your life around wisely choosing what your priorities are. (McKeown actually argues in his book that part of the issue we have is we can't actually have priorities. We can have a priority — the essential.) Essentialism principles easily apply to cleaning out your closet, increasing work-flow in your career, and organizing your time and relationships.
McKeown's kicker question for me was: "If I didn't already own this, how much would I spend to buy it?" This can be applied beyond the closet to my job and relationships. "If I didn't already have this job, how much energy would I spend to get it?"
"The ability to choose cannot be taken away or even given away — it can only be forgotten." — p.36 in Essentialism
The book is filled with lists differentiating how essentialists and non-essentialists think and operate. McKeown says there are 3 principles that make up the core mind-set of an essentialist: "
- Individual chioce: We can choose how to spend our energy and time.
- The prevalence of noise: Almost everything is noise, and a very few things are exceptionally valuable.
- The reality of trade-offs: We can't have it all or do it all." — p.20
McKeown intertwines a holistic view of the things in life that are essential — play, sleep, solitude. These are essential to life — not just to be a productive person.
Here are a few of the distinctions of a non-essentialist and an essentialist, as layed out by McKeown (quoted from Essentialism):
- Thinks almost everything is essential
- Is too busy doing to think about life
- Hears everything being said
- Think sleep is a luxury
- Says yes to everything
- Thinks almost everything is non-essential
- Creates space to escape and explore life
- Hears what is not being said
- Think sleep is a priority
- Says yes only to the things that really matter
While reading this book and after I closed the last page I find myself being more thoughtful and having more clarity in all areas of my life. At home when I do my monthly sweep of the apartment to get rid of things we haven't been using, I struggle less with the emotional grip of the process. It's still there, but with the tools McKeown has given, it's much easier to cut to the point.
At work I find myself more emotionally and mentally strong with the ability to look at the details, but pull back more often to see if these items are helping to reach our larger goals. I'm also noticing I have less patience with long meetings and conversations involving work (not the fun side conversations!) that are not precise, or feel rash and unthoughtful. It's not that patterns at work have changed — but my view of them has. I have a growing desire to be part of a team that operates in essentialism.
In closing, I'll end with a quote that I love so much from Socrates that McKeown begins Chapter 20 with:
"Beware the barrenness of a busy life."