Friends, how do you decide to spend your time and energy?
Multiple times this year, friends, colleagues and I expressed the idea, “Either Hell Yes or No,” meaning we came into stark view of our core values and primary objectives. We then let them lead the way to confidently making important decisions, such as what work and which clients to engage, candidates to interview and hire, and projects to pursue.
Three friends have read and recommended Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and one kindly gifted me a copy many years ago. A quick summary:
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Have you ever found yourself stretched too thin?
Do you sometimes feel overworked and underutilized?
Do you feel motion sickness instead of momentum?
Does your day sometimes get hijacked by someone else’s agenda?
Have you ever said “yes” simply to please and then resented it?
If you answered yes to any of these, the way out is the Way of the Essentialist.
I have started and restarted the book over the years, and have yet to finish. It makes me feel bad about myself, as if being divergent in my attention and activities is somehow a personal deficiency and failure. A few years ago I listened to The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson, and liked it a lot. The message seems similar to me, and yet I did not feel diminished by it. As I discussed with my friends this summer, once again I remembered Start With Why, one of my favorite books which, arguably, also posits a similar thesis. What follows here is the record of a stream of consciousness I had the day after my birthday. Much credit is owed to my friends, who help me keep the conversation and learning going over these many years.
First, there is absolutely value in focus. I see it as akin to knowing and living my Why—my core values, purpose, and mission. But there is a shadow to this virtue: narrowed vision and rigidity. Singular focus on an exclusive goal risks missing a wider context of experience, missing possibility. Maybe that’s how I see the message of Essentialism—like a LASER—straight, focused, one wavelength only, directed, landing on one point, unbending, predetermined. This is not me, I thought, the day after turning 46.
So what’s the opposite of a laser, then? The SUN, I thought joyfully. Full spectrum light, generative, warming, inviting, invigorating. It reaches everywhere. It is intrinsically energized, self-sustaining, BIG. But it can also be damaging. It should be taken in measured doses or it’s not safe. It can also be harnessed; we can absorb and store its energy for later use. It is a paradox—so powerful, and yet blocked by a thin sheet of paper. It is celestial, mystical. Oh yes, I love the Sun.
At first I thought I would much rather be like the sun than a laser. But… really? Could I seriously compare myself to the source of all light and life on our planet, the center of our solar system around which all other heavenly bodies orbit, the gravitational focus of our universe?
[Insert googly eye, open mouth, hanging tongue emoji here]
Teeheeheeee, yes, this feels much better.
A lightbulb can brighten, enlighten. It warms. It sheds light where there may otherwise be darkness.
There are different kinds of lightbulbs, all for different contexts, serving various needs—but their essential Why is the same. It’s their How that varies. They are adaptable.
A lightbulb requires an energy source. I must be connected to that which sustains me, where I can recharge. And a bulb can get electricity from anything that generates it—solar, wind, hydro, a human on a bike, fire, steam—I can derive my power from any of a myriad of sources.
A bulb must be seated in a socket, in constant contact with its energy source—a reliable circuit must always be present in order to maintain its light. I cannot think of a more perfect metaphor for my deep, thick web of friends who hold me up every day. Disconnected, I go dark.
Lightbulbs can also burn out. Hmmm.
I have decided that I am a shape-shifting, metamorphosing lightbulb. I change myself in my socket, or change sockets, giving different kinds of light, depending on the room I’m in and what the room needs. I can be incandescent, fluorescent, LED. I can be your flashlight, your headlamp, your night light, or your reading light. Hey, it’s my life analogy, I can invent it however I want!
All of that said, I think I’ve tried to be too many bulbs lately. My light flickers a bit today. In 2020 I intend to look a little harder at my all of my bulb selves, and perhaps shelve one or two for a while. Or rotate myself more slowly, intentionally, and mindfully. Sit in my sockets good and long, serving those around me with deeper presence, brighter light, a fuller spectrum of myself at a time. Yes, that feels better.