I’ve been wanting to talk to you about Essentialism by Greg McKeown for a while now, one of the books that impacted me the most this year. From the name, you can guess what the book is about: The search for the essential, for focusing on less things in life to do less, but better.
It sounds simple when defined that way, but the truth is that adopting an essentialist lifestyle can be quite challenging at first. This is because it goes against much of what we are taught throughout life, such as our almost unconscious impulse to say “yes” to every opportunity or demand that comes our way.
In this text, I’m going to share with you some of the lessons I took from the book to life and that I think can have a very positive impact, both on our professional evolution and on personal satisfaction.
One thing I really liked about the book is that it doesn’t take a simplistic approach like many self-help books do. The first step to becoming an essentialist is, at first, very difficult. It involves a lot of reflection, a lot of leisure time, a lot of experimentation for you to understand and decide what is really essential for you.
Being essentialist is not saying “no” to everything, but always analyzing the options carefully before making a choice. Then comes the cliché phrase (which I love!): “If we don’t set priorities, someone else will do it for us ”. By letting go of our choices (and we do it without realizing it all the time), we allow other people to choose for us.
In addition to losing control over our path, this can also cause us to lose focus. Doing several things at once leads to micro-evolution in different areas, while focusing on one or two things that are really important can lead to extraordinary results. As in the illustration below that I extracted from the book:
It’s simple, obvious, but it can make our heads explode, right? Hahaha I know I had a lot of insights when I saw this image and that was the moment I realized I urgently needed to apply essentialism in work and life.
Even because, if you define that everything is a priority, basically nothing is a priority. It is not obvious?
The author defines essentialism as “the disciplined search for less”. You noticed the bold, right? For you to really make a change in your life, you really need to have a lot of discipline until the “no” becomes easier and the decisions a little more intuitive. It’s like I said at the beginning: denying projects, help and jobs goes against what we’ve been taught all our lives.
Of course, the book gives some tools for you to be able to adopt this. A suggestion that I really liked is to imagine where you want to be in 5 years and think about the fundamental actions you need to take TODAY to make that happen.
Let’s say your goal is, for example, to be a published author 5 years from now. With that clear in your mind, it’s obvious that you need to turn down that tempting proposition as a marketing manager that will take you in the opposite direction. He understands? To accept every opportunity that comes along is to live adrift in life, with no control over what you are going to accomplish.
Another passage from the book about choices that stuck in my head: “If it’s not an obvious ‘yes’, then the answer is ‘no.’ ” Have you ever thought how much time we can save in life if we take this approach? But, of course, this is easier said in the catchphrase than in real life. So, what to do?
I find it really difficult for someone used to saying yes to everything adopting essentialism overnight. This requires self-knowledge that takes time, courage that doesn’t come out of nowhere, and also some adaptation from the people around us.
The first time someone asks you for a favor, for example, and you say “no”, it will cause a feeling of awkwardness. Of course, you can tactfully explain that you’re focused on x, y and z, and so it can’t help. Over time, people will come to respect your decisions and understand that when you say “yes” to something, it’s because you jumped in.
If you choose well where you’re going to dive headfirst, your life can take a much more accurate course professionally. And, of course, much happier from a personal point of view. Even because saying “no” to a project that doesn’t attract you so much to stay with your family, for example, seems to me to be a completely essentialist decision.
Another excerpt from the book that I really liked:
The essentialist lives life without regrets. When we correctly identify what matters most and invest time and energy in it, it is difficult to regret the choices. We are proud of the life we choose to have.
So, have you thought about what is truly essential for you? Think about professional and personal goals too. If we reflect well on what is essential, we will invariably realize that we need to pay more attention to the people we love.