Boy oh boy has it been a whirlwind of a few weeks for me!
My world, my routines, my comfort — they’ve all been turned upside down by trips to South Dakota then Mexico then Palm Springs. My introverted ways have definitely been tested from moments of speaking to crowds and navigating group vacations and giving my all to days and days of conversation.
Don’t get me wrong, while this stretch has brought me immense joy with its gorgeous views, lasting memories and deepening friendships, if I’m being honest, coming out the other side feels a bit like I've been tossed around in a washing machine with no clue as to which way is up.
At first glance it's hard to know how I got so "over-booked" in the first place, but upon further inspection, it's actually no wonder at all.
As humans, our instinct is to think we can do it all.
Of course I want to speak at TEDx! Of course I want to go on a Mexican vacation! OF COURSE I want to have a fun girls trip with my best friends in the world!
But all at once? Back to back? My current state is teaching me... maybe not so much.
Which leads me to this week's topic: essentialism.
To be more accurate, that's Essentialism with a capital E, because when I returned from my trip on Friday, as a part of my I'm-an-introvert-and-need-alone-time recuperation regiment, I started reading the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
The guiding principle of the book can be boiled down to this one phrase: less but better. It's the acknowledgement that eliminating non-essentials and focusing on a few key things will allow us to more effectively allocate our limited resources (time, money, energy, thought, etc.) to the things that matter most.
I'm just a few chapters in and already it's proving to be a powerful reminder for me of how defining the essential can be applied to all sorts of things: my work productivity, my business strategy, my wardrobe, my relationships, my daily routine... the list goes on.
The timing of the book felt especially poignant for me (coming off my "I can do it all" travel-palooza) when I read this:
The thing that stood out to me there was the part about trade-offs. By assuming I could cram all of this travel into my schedule, there are things I had to sacrifice that I would never normally intentionally sacrifice. Things like my daily art practice, keeping up with this community, healthier habits, enough sleep, etc.
By sitting down and really defining what is essential -- what we value MOST in our lives (ie. not a list of 40 things) -- we are better equipped to take control over those trade-offs.
The lesson I learned these past few weeks was that as much as I think I know what my values are, I need to do a better job of defining them and, more importantly, protecting them. I need to take a hard look at what is absolutely essential in my own life so that I can decide what trade-offs I'm willing to make, rather than let other people choose for me. (For the record, let me be clear that no one forced me to go on these trips, nor did I NOT want to go. That's the whole point, I wanted so badly to do everything that I avoided making a hard decision that could have spared me from sacrificing some of my essentials.)
Before I wrap up, I want to share with you a timely example of someone I admire immensely defining their "essential" and defending it courageously.
Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing Elizabeth Gilbert on her Big Magic book tour. She was magnificent and wise and as delightful as I’d always imagined. (Side note: as I was writing this newsletter, she actually regrammed my lettering piece of one of my favorite quotes in her book and I pretty much died -- in the best way possible of course!)
At the end of the evening though last night, right before you might expect her to announce where you could line up to have her sign a copy of her book, with a heavy heart she sincerely explained why she had made the decision NOT to do a book signing line on this tour. She very clearly and authentically expressed that she knew the limitations of her body and her health, and after doing several previous book tours, she knew that she wouldn't last through the middle of December across multiple continents if every night she greeted hundreds individually. Her body (or energy reserves) just wouldn't allow it.
She apologized, of course, and while for a moment I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to give her the giant bear hug I'd planned, that moment of disappointment quickly turned into immense respect and gratitude.
She was showing us (showing me) what an intentional trade-off looks like up close. She was showing me what it looks like to make hard decisions in defense of your values. Staying energized to the max so that she can give every audience her best self requires saying NO to hours of hugs and book signings and convos with audience members, and that's a trade-off that, while difficult, was worth it. It required delivering momentary disappointment in exchange for her essential -- staying healthy and being the best version of herself for the duration of the tour.
What a gift, I thought.
After explaining all of this, she ended by reciting this poem by Louise Erdrich, throughout the entirety of which I could not wipe the huge grin off my face because it could not have been more fitting for this idea of trade-offs and defining what is essential to us.
Here’s the poem:
Ahhh, yes. "This ruse you call necessity."
I adore this poem. I adore it because it is a poignant and (to me) hilarious reminder of the trade-offs we must make in life in order to protect our TRUE necessities, our essential. The things that make us come alive. The things that "destroy the insulation" between ourselves and our experiences. That magical transcendence of living in alignment with our true selves.
So my challenge to you this week is to first define your essential.
What are the things you're simply not willing to sacrifice as a trade-off? Is it your health? The pursuit of your creativity? Is it that hour of silence you require in the morning to start your day right? Is it doing work that gives you that fiery stir in the pit of your stomach?
Whatever it is, write it down. Once you do that, I'd also encourage you to write down some of the trade-offs you might have to make in order to DEFEND those things.
Get really honest with yourself and write down some hard ones. It might be saying no to the book club you love so you can spend that hour each week writing the first draft of your own book. It might be shelving that business idea for now so that you can be all in with your kids when they get home from school. Whatever those values are, it's important to prepare yourself for those challenging moments when you might have to protect them.
Looking back, I wish I had a better sense of my own essentials so that I had the courage to raise my hand and say "I can't travel on those dates" because even though I loved each of those trips and enjoyed them, I'd be lying to myself if I said I brought my best self to each experience, and that's not fair to me or anyone else.
Anyway, happy to be re-connecting with you guys and thanks for your patience in the Slack channel and on email lately -- I appreciate it.