As I walked home from classes tonight I felt slightly overwhelmed. “Oh I have to finish this essay, start preparation for those exams, work on that commission, read this book, meet that friend, write that article, spend time there…”. But suddenly I stopped. The narrator in the audio-book that I was listening to said “Cut out what’s non-essential and learn how to say NO“.
The sentence spoke to me. It was almost like it hit me in the face. Greg McKeown continued by saying that an increase in stress will decrease the quality of work. Spot on. Furthermore, he said that the most important thing is to recognise what I can do with my time and resources at a particular moment. In other words, to produce quality work, I must be selective. It’s in selectiveness that you buy yourself time during which you find the creative freedom.
“Busy being busy”
I don’t like to say that I am stressed, too busy or that I don’t have time. And yet, I am well aware (to my regret) that these sentences easily come out of my mouth. Especially in moments when I can feel a movement of unrest swirling around in my stomach. When Greg rhetorically asked “Have you ever said yes to simply please?”, I felt hit once again. He recognised a key in our realities today, which constantly fuels this feeling of unrest: connectedness.
The constant connectedness have increased the sense of social pressure. This social pressure can be equalled to all social inputs that we are exposed to on a daily basis such as advertisement and social media – all inputs which have a great impact on the values of our environment on how we are “supposed to live” to fit in. It’s as if society rate being busy as a measurement of success and fulfilment. For example, do you ever see anyone today waiting somewhere without being on the phone? I don’t. People are simply too busy being busy to even look up. I also think that many are too scared to reveal that they actually have nothing particular to do as this would make them a “failure” to a certain extent.
“Better off living in the forest”
One of the essays that I need to write is about the French philosopher Rousseau’s idea of freedom. And it struck me how some of his theories about how we are better off “living in the forest” and not in cities can be applied almost 300 years later. I don’t want to advocate that we all should move to the countryside, but rather bring light on the commercialised and stressful world that we have created for ourselves. To be successful today we should have a good job, do sports, eat healthy, have a rich social life and do “cool” things in the same time. It’s like we are constantly in movement but don’t move forward. Or that we feel busy but not really productive.
For example, I had 8 hours of classes today, which I think counts for a busy day. But I don’t feel like I have been very productive… I’ve rather been sitting still on my ass all day listening. This is partly where my art is my life saviour. The feeling to produce something concrete and tangible at the end of the day really helps to fuel the batteries and the self-esteem. “I did something today”.
Live your life after your own design
To manage life as a student and creator makes me constantly face the need to prioritise. I’ve had to realise what Greg states “I can do anything but not everything”. For many people I think this can also translate into “I can be anywhere but not everywhere”. I know many friends that have said they sometimes have a feeling that they are “missing out” if they say no to an event. But in reality, they wish they would’ve stayed home to work on something they feel passionate about. It requires courage to say no to the non-essentials, but everyone can do it.
Logically you always know that you have the option to choose to stay home or to say no to work that you are not initially assigned for. However, emotionally it might sometimes feel like you don’t have a choice at all. We can tell ourselves “What would they think”. But who cares what others think? You are the one who need to live your life after your design. If you surrender your power to choose, someone else will take its place and decide for you. Consequentially you may find yourself in a life situation that you would never have chosen for yourself. Take charge today!
“The power of choosing to choose”
It’s not always easy to choose. Far from it. This is partly why I wrote a previous article on “How to manage indecisiveness“. I think that Greg, once again, has a good point when he says that we’re faced with too many choices, which cause decision fatigue. I remember how my mother said, when I was choosing between high-school programmes, that it was much better in “the good old days“, because you could only choose between 4 core distinctions. The same goes for the endless possibilities for a University degree. However, these are only academic choices. Once you are out in the “work-world”, there are even more decision to be made!
Considering the enormous amounts of decision we need to make on a daily basis, it’s even more important to be in charge of your own decision-making. Greg states the latter as revealing the “power of choosing to choose“. As soon as you take charge of your choices you are the designer of your life-journey.
How to know how I should design my life?
In one of Casey Neistat’s vlogs he tells his reasons of why he didn’t make life “easy”for his son by organising a cool and fancy job for him. Instead, Owen’s first job is to work at the counter in a donut store. Casey points out that it is when you work at a job you hate that you realise what your real passion is. This is not the only benefit. You also learn the value of money and most of all – you learn to respect everyone who works or has worked in the same situation as you, because you know that it’s hard work.
No one other than yourself can know what your passion is, but sometimes you will have to try many different things before it stands crystal clear in front of you. There is no “short-cut” for a quality life. “The things worth having are the ones worth fighting for“.
How to identify what’s essential and non-essential?
To conclude this article, I would just like to refer to another inspirational talk by Jana Söderberg. We often spend a lot of our time and energy on things that we have no control over at all. She visualised everything as a box. What is inside the box are all the things that you have the power to affect. The things outside of the box are beyond your effective power and reach.
Thus, to rephrase this in terms of Greg’s book on essentialism, a first step towards quality output and improved well-being is to cut out everything outside the box that is non-essential. Focus your energy on what’s inside the box and start by organising it in rang of real importance.