Do you ever feel overwhelmed with all of the stress, responsibilities and challenges in your daily life? If I am honest with myself, the times I feel most anxious or stressed are usually caused by my lifelong tendency to over-complicate things and an inclination towards “busyness”. I am grateful for the occasional insights I have into ways to address this problem and as I grow older, I recognize the wisdom of something my father often shared with me in my younger days: simplify your life.
Everything about our modern culture involves complexity and unnecessary layers. I long for more opportunities to live in the moment and experience life in “real time” versus the frantic pace I often keep. I want my legacy to be more than “he accomplished more than most”! I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I would like to share the three-step approach I am working on to achieve greater simplicity, peace and a heightened sense of purpose in my life:
- Have Clear Priorities
- Practice Detachment
- Serve Others
Step One: Have Clear Priorities
What are your priorities? I often ask this question of other professionals and the answers are typically all over the map. I am a Christian and came into faith later in life. I have gone from a compartmentalized approach to living where I unsuccessfully attempted to balance work and family to a life where my faith is first, family is second and work is third on my list of priorities. Additionally, I work hard at keeping Christ at the center of everything I do and the result is a more authentic and integrated approach to life where I am the same person at all times.
How does this play out in my life?
Faith—Through my active prayer life and worship I do my best to serve the Lord and make sure He is my top priority. “Lord, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be and becoming that person.” (St. Therese of Lisieux)
Family—I have been given a vocation, and it is to be the best husband and father possible. I serve my family by giving them my time, attention and love. In our home, family dinner is a priority as is the commitment my wife and I share in loving our children enough to challenge them with the truth. We have always worked hard to ensure our children grow up with faith and strong values and it is our duty to serve as role models for them. I also have a responsibility to take care of my health so I can be present in their lives for many years to come.
Work—I focus on sanctifying my work and pursuing excellence. I must remember that my vocation is not my job/career. My job exists to serve my family…not the other way around. My job provides a living for my family and a way to fulfill my mission, but it cannot be allowed to consume me in an unhealthy way.
Having our priorities straight requires intentionality and commitment…and a fair amount of courage. We must plan our time; have lines we won’t cross and stick to our principles. Most importantly, those of us who are Christians know we are made for Heaven and not this world. We will be judged one day by how we lived, not how fast we lived. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (C.S. Lewis)
Step Two: Practice Detachment
How do we detach? Does this mean we need to become hermits in a mountainside cabin? Of course not. But, we need to acknowledge that we live in a materialistic and consumer-driven world encouraging us to acquire as much stuff as possible, often at the expense of what is truly important. If we can practice real freedom from the blind pursuit of an illusory better life attached to acquiring more material goods we don’t need and other negative influences of this world, we will be better prepared to make healthier and more meaningful choices in life. Also, remember that attaching ourselves to the right people and activities will further help us detach from negative influences.
Ideas for pursuing detachment:
- Let it go. Ask ourselves if we really need “it”, whatever “it” is. Will the bigger house, bigger car and other toys truly make us happier? Or, are we filling an empty void in ourselves with the wrong things?
- Be careful to not let our possessions/hobbies/interests become obstacles between us and our families or us and God.
- Be cognizant of what “enough” really means.
- Resist the siren call of the culture to become someone we are not and chase after things we do not need.
- Recognize the virtue of hard work and reject the easy and responsibility-free life often promised by the world.
- Avoid the “pack mentality” and do what we know is right and true, not what everyone else is doing.
- Value true friends…the ones who challenge us, make us better and don’t require us to compromise who we really are. Be willing to accept having fewer friends in order to enhance overall relationship health.
- Turn off the noise. Let’s spend less time on our iPhones, TV, Internet and Talk Radio and more time in quiet reflection, prayer, quality time with loved ones, physical exercise and reading books.
- Frequently express gratitude for our blessings and all that we have and never take our good fortune for granted.
I am challenged on a daily basis by the concept of detachment. It is very difficult to practice, yet when I do make progress in this area I feel a profound sense of freedom and peace that encourages me to work harder at it every day. The world is constantly trying to pull me in the wrong direction. When I practice detachment from our culture and its more negative influences, I more clearly recognize and value the blessings I have received.
Step Three: Serve Others
I recall a meeting several years ago with one of my executive coaching clients when we were about two weeks into our working relationship. She walked into the room, obviously very excited to share something with me. She placed a two-page document on the table between us and declared: “I want to discuss mission statements today!” Obviously, these pages represented hers. She then asked me to share my own mission statement before we discussed hers and my client took out her notebook to write down what she assumed would be a lengthy description of my own mission statement.
“It is only two words, so there is no need to take notes.” I said, much to her bewilderment.
“How can that be? I want to hear your mission statement and there is no way it is only two words!”
I smiled at her and said: “If you will let me finish, I will tell you. My mission statement is simple: serve others.”
Now she was totally flabbergasted. “I just don’t see how that can be your mission statement. Mine is almost two pages!”
“Well, when I was in my 20’s, I probably had something that looked like yours. But, as I have grown older, I have embraced simplicity and come to realize that I get everything I need in this life by putting others before myself. By serving the needs of others I make a living and support my family through my coaching, consulting, books and speaking. I am part of a worthwhile mission by helping others achieve their full potential. My company is called Serviam Partners and Serviam is Latin for ‘I Will Serve’. I love what I do and feel very fortunate to be so aligned with my mission.”
She was speechless as she took all of this in. We never did review all of her two-page mission statement, but the next time we met she brought a one-paragraph version instead of the two-page version. She made progress and eventually we whittled it down to just a few words.
I shared this story (at her request, by the way) because knowing who you are and what you are called to do is a critical component of simplifying your life. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I was focused on climbing the corporate ladder as fast as possible with little understanding of what I would do when I reached the top. As I shared in my third book, Something More: The Professionals Pursuit of a Meaningful Life, I walked away from a senior executive role with a billion dollar restaurant company in my early 30’s to run a boutique national search firm and in 2013, I launched Serviam Partners which offers executive coaching and leadership consulting services to companies and senior leaders. These career moves were all intentional and part of my ever-increasing desire to simplify my life and fully tap into my skills and passions in the service of others.
Probably the greatest revelation for me over the years has been the sense of peace and joy I feel which only comes from helping other people. Even though I always seek to know, understand and do God’s will in my life, the times I most frequently feel close to achieving this is when I do something in the service of others.
How do I serve other people?
- As busy as I may be, I strive to make quality time for others.
- Treating others as I wish to be treated is a priority.
- I try to be a good listener.
- I pray for others.
- I engage in civil discussions with those who disagree with me.
- Being candid is a gift when delivered with professionalism and love. I always try and give this gift to those I encounter.
- I connect others to helpful people and resources in my network.
- I try to give not only of my time, but also my talent and treasure to serve and help those less fortunate than me.
- I always try to add value to my relationships.
- I serve great causes and practice active stewardship with the help of my family and friends.
My giving to others is ultimately…a gift right back to me. When I devote myself to helping a person in need, I feel a tremendous sense of fulfillment. My hectic schedule can sometimes get in the way and I struggle to do all that I desire for others, but I keep trying.
Intentionality and Clarity Lead to Simplicity
Do you ever reflect back on your career? Retrace your steps and reflect on lessons learned? At the beginning of my career I was a follower, then I became a manager and then a leader. Now, I embrace the “influencer” stage of my career. I work through my books, talks, coaching and consulting to influence positive outcomes for the people I encounter in my life. I make mistakes, but I am clear about my goals and my desire to follow a simpler path, serve others and live a faith-filled life. The path to get here had many twists and turns, but I was very intentional along the way.
I hope you will reflect on the direction of your life and recognize that the time for embracing a simpler approach to life is now and not when we reach retirement. I have observed with gratitude the example my parents set for me over the years of how to live simply, act with humility and serve others with love and charity. My encouragement to you is, simply put, to embrace simplicity. You, your work and everyone around you will benefit from this life-changing decision. This is often a difficult struggle and counter-cultural, but get rid of the excess and retain the necessary. Focus on what is important and have the right priorities. Serve others.
Simplify your life.