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“Don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve.”
I bet you’ve heard that dozens of times. From the time we’re kids, till we enter relationships, and throughout our career.
We want the best. We deserve the best.
But it’s easy to confuse what we deserve with what we need.
We deserve to end the work day feeling like we’ve accomplished something. But how many days have you come home feeling like you’ve spun your wheels in 5 different directions and accomplished nothing.
We deserve to end a weekend feeling refreshed and recharged. But when we’ve committed to 6 different things, Sunday night comes in the blink of an eye. You want a do-over.
You shouldn’t settle for less than what you need, but if you don’t define what your specific need is, you end up reaching for every opportunity that comes your way.
Your specific needs are different than your friend’s or your brother’s or your parents. We tend to waste time and energy chasing what we think we should need.
In his book Essentialism – The Disciplined Approach to Less, Greg McKeown talks about filtering out everything that doesn’t matter to you, leaving you to focus on only things that’ll benefit you at this point in your life.
He says it’s not about saying an automatic no to almost everything.
“The truth is, there are way more activities and opportunities facing us than we’d ever have the time to invest in. A lot of them may be worthwhile, but most aren’t.”
He says we can get so inundated with options that we can actually forget, or become numb to our ability to choose the one that’s right for us.
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How Do We Forget Our Ability to Choose?
One way we eventually realize we’re in a situation that we’d never have chosen, is by the sheer information overload coming at us every day.
As you read this, your phone might have buzzed a few times with texts, emails or tweets. Maybe the TV’s on, and you’re reading and watching simultaneously. Walk into any crowded place – the airport, train station or any food court. 75% of the people probably have their head buried in their phone or their tablet.
It’s tough to escape the barrage of input around us. So, it’s easy to confuse what everyone around us wants, and what we’re told we should want, with what we alone need.
Greg McKeown pointed out another way we can lose touch with what we need:
Have you ever had difficulty with one thing in particular? He used an example that I struggled with – learning math. Yours could be anything – feeling stuck at work, trying to budget, trying to get organized at home, finding a relationship that works, etc.
When we continually have difficulty at something, we can acquire a “learned helplessness”. And it usually shows itself in one of two ways:
- You give up trying at all.
- You start grasping at anything you think may work.
Suppose you feel stuck in your job. You haven’t been promoted in 5 years and don’t see it happening anytime soon. So you start volunteering and saying yes to everything under the sun. Now you’re running in 12 different directions and making almost no progress in any of them.
Or maybe you give up. You show up, collect your paycheck and suffer in silence.
You’re confused and frustrated. You deserve more. But what you need, is to be able to focus on the few tasks that’ll move the ball forward each day. If not there, then somewhere else.
How Essentialism Saved Apple Computer
Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple in 1985, and returned in 1997 when he was named interim CEO. Apple was in crisis mode at the time. Their product line had become bloated, and in the last quarter of 1996, sales had sunk by 30%.
One of the first things Jobs did, was to slash the product line by 70%. His strategy was to produce only four products, and put a much greater focus on quality and innovation.
“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things”.
And saying no to the things that didn’t matter paid off. During the first fiscal year of Job’s return, Apple lost $1.04 billion, and according to him, they were 90 days from insolvency. The following year, they turned a $309 million profit.
How Can We Filter it All Out
Your neighbors are taking a cruise next month. Your friend is investing money in this great side hustle. And your coworker is applying for a position at the new company across town.
But wait, what about you? Shouldn’t you be taking advantage of those opportunities? You deserve it, right?
It might make sense for your neighbor, but is it essential to moving your life forward right now?
You may have heard Warren Buffet’s secret to focusing on what’s essential:
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything”.
That doesn’t mean he automatically rejects every opportunity. In fact, the method he suggests using for your career is to make a list of your top 25 goals. Then circle the 5 most important ones. And now cross off the other 20. The 20 will be done in time, he says, but right now they’re just distractions.
You can apply this to any area:
- Write 8 things you’d like to do next weekend. Now cross off 4 (or reschedule to another day).
- Write 5 personal goals you’d like to accomplish within the next 5 years. Then eliminate 2.
- Write 3 work goals you’d like to accomplish tomorrow. Now, which one will make the most difference.
Why Should You Care?
So Warren Buffet filters out stock offerings and business opportunities to eliminate all but the essential.
But how does that help you?
The idea of Essentialism, or drilling down on the things that matter most, reminded me of two stats that really resonated. The first is financial, and the second is personal.
1. According to Career Builder 78% of people live paycheck to paycheck their entire life.
Almost 8 in 10 people have no emergency fund and couldn’t pay for a sudden expense like a car repair.
Now, granted, we all have tough times at some point in our life. But when such a large percentage of people live paycheck to paycheck their entire life, it makes you wonder – how many of us take the time to work out our own budget and separate the non-essential (for us) from the essential?
Is it because we over commit at work and at home, so while we’re busy multitasking through life we don’t have time to filter out what we don’t need?
I paid for 170 channels of cable TV for years, when I’d watch 2 or 3. Sometimes. I’d pay my gym membership month after month, and visit it maybe twice. I’d renew magazine subscriptions that collected dust, and pay huge car payments when I had no emergency fund.
Taking the time to filter out the non-essential isn’t just a productivity hack. Reaching for everything that comes our way is a big reason we struggle month after month.
2. People tend to live their entire life, never pursuing what matters to them.
For her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, palliative nurse Bronnie Ware spoke to many patients during their last days. When she asked for their biggest regret in life, the one expressed most often was that they never lived the life they wanted to. They spent their entire life living according to other people’s expectations.
So, why wouldn’t someone live the life they wanted?
I’d bet if you asked 50 people in their 30’s and 40’s whether their current career aligns with what they truly feel they were meant to do, the majority would probably say no.
And many of them probably have a mortgage to pay, a big car payment, and $5000 in credit card bills. Getting some training to move to a more fulfilling line of work would require money that’s already committed to a mountain of debt.
And after work, their schedules may be full with yard work, the gym, the PTA meeting or their kid’s track meet.
Having no money and no time is a trap we think is temporary. Until you realize that two decades have slipped by, and you still haven’t taken that trip. You’re still working at a job you can’t stand. And you still don’t have a 401k because of the house full of furniture you’re paying off.
So, being an Essentialist doesn’t mean settling for less than what you deserve.
It means carefully defining what it is that you want. Whatever it is that’ll benefit you at this point. Then saying no to everything else.
Or as David Allen says, “You can do anything, but not everything”.
How about you? Do you feel like you’re spread in so many directions that few of them bring value into your life?
How could you pursue less and live more?