Doing More Doesn't Mean You're Doing More
Lessons learned from Greg McKeown about prioritizing your life.
Book Nuggets: Essentialism by Greg McKeown
Since so much of my practical life philosophy is influenced by books I’ve read, some Tuesdays will be dedicated to exploring the best nuggets of wisdom from aforementioned books. As always, be ready for some real-life application and a story or two woven throughout.
“Join this club so you can build your resume.”
“Take on this additional responsibility in your organization because you’re good at it.”
“Stay up late so you can get more done.”
Any of these sound familiar to you? I suppose just about anyone who wants to do good for the world has a tendency to both hear these statements and say them to others. I was the “do everything to put it on your resume and appear successful” type of gal in high school and early college; I’m still working on it, but I’ve been learning how thought patterns like this are more detrimental than valuable.
Reading Essentialism by Greg McKeown a few months after taking a gap year from college was pivotal for the rest of my college career, and I anticipate it will remain influential for the rest of my life. It’s a delightful book to read with so many genuine stories and valuable thoughts, and is one of those rare books which actually manages to change your life in a practical way after you read it. Here are my top lessons learned:
1) We’re too proud of how little sleep we get
It’s one thing to cram a bit the night before a big paper is due a few times a semester, or spend a late night out with friends; it’s another thing to chronically deprive ourselves of sleep because we think we can be more successful by doing so. What’s more, we then brag about how little sleep we got in order to get everything done. I’m not a sleep expert, but I’ve learned enough about human health and wellness to realize it’s not worth sacrificing years at the end of our lives for extra hours awake right now. Please don’t say (because I’ve done it, too): “but I just don’t have time to get enough sleep.” Friend, if you don’t have enough time to take care of your body, it’s because you’re doing too many things. (Unless you have kids… I think that’s probably the only worthwhile excuse.)
2) We’re wrong to think we do the most good by doing the most things
So maybe we can be in twelve clubs at school, but does that mean we can contribute real value to all of them at the same time? I’d venture to say we can’t. Not only will we be burnt out by the end of the semester, we’ll also likely look back and see that we spread our energy across too many directions and failed to move the needle in any direction at all. Have you ever met someone who seems completely and totally fulfilled in their life? I have, and they very deliberately choose to invest heavily in others, but in concentrated ways; they focus on the few areas where they know they can do the most good.
3) We think saying “yes” = selfless and saying “no” = selfish
It appears to me our society has equated saying “yes” (to an opportunity, a chance to volunteer, joining an organization, etc) with being selfless, and saying “no” with being selfish. Many, recognizing that saying “yes” to everything isn’t a good idea, will then go on to say “sometimes, you just need to be selfish.” Yet, this is still falling into the trap of thinking yes = selfless and no = selfish. The line isn’t drawn so simply. Learn from my mom (one of the most selfless people I know): she was recently asked to run for the local library board, but knowing her volunteer time is best spent in the reading corner with 4th graders at the school generation exchange program, she politely declined to run. She said “no” to one thing so she could say a better “yes” to another. Ultimately, it’s not the answer that matters so much as the reason behind it.
Since reading Essentialism, I’ve become more stubborn about maintaining my sleep schedule, and I notice a clear difference. I’ve been careful to spend my time on fewer clubs and projects, but to invest fully in each. I’m slowly, but surely, learning to selflessly say “no” when I know my time is better used elsewhere. (Thanks, Greg McKeown.) What’s next in your life matters. Don’t be aimless about it. And hey, get an extra hour of sleep tonight, will you?
A Thought to Ponder
Think about how you spend your time in an average week: what is the most meaningful thing you do? What could you cut out and not miss doing?