As I was returning to the office from lunch, I opened the door and saw a co-worker sitting at her desk eating a sandwich and reading a small silver book. She looked up and smiled as I came in. I walked over to her desk and asked her what she was reading. Little did I know at the time but a lifelong desire for simplicity was about to be born inside me.
My friend told how she and her husband had recently begun to question a few common assumptions most of their family and friends had about what success looks like, what was most important in their lives, and how they should spend their time. That was a pretty big intro to our conversation. It was also a big opener for such a small book.
In hindsight I now notice how perfect that setting was for the entire story. Me, going out to lunch to eat unhealthy food and spending money I did not have at the time. Her, saving that money and taking the time to pack herself a healthy lunch. My finances and my health getting just a tiny bit worse in that hour, her finances and her health getting just a tiny bit better during the same hour.
This was early in my career. I was making my way in the world, learning about business and management. I was consuming vast quantities of written content on anything to do with software, technology, business, management, and leadership. I was not consuming much on health, fitness, personal finance, or lifestyle design and happiness. I had begun a small sampling of investment content, and I was learning about finance as I was working for a boutique pension and 401(k) administration firm. Fortunately for me, I had stumbled into a job working with people who did accounting on retirement plans for companies and individuals. It is even more fortunate that I stumbled into the office as my friend was reading this simple book.
The book was Living the Simple Life: A Guide to Scaling Down and Enjoying More by Elaine St. James. It’s a combination of philosophy, simple stories, and practical tips to help you simplify your life so you can enjoy the things that matter most to you.
There was something about the size and shape of the book that intrigued me from the start. It was smaller than most books; it had fewer words. It was a simple shape, a square. The text was light on the page and easy to read. The chapters short and succinct. Yet the message was powerful and bold. Not preachy, not loud. However fully advocating a radically different view of determining value in life and offering a substantially different path to finding happiness. A world view and an applicable manual in one small package.
The author and her husband had been on the well worn path to success characterized by ten to twelve hour workdays, expensive cars and homes. Calls, meetings, goals, organizations, and activity jammed their schedules from wake to sleep. “Busy” was their mantra…and then one day they began to question all of those goals and aspirations and plans. They began a small shift toward less.
Less led to a few personal retreats to evaluate their many lists. Reviewing those lists led to prioritizing them. Prioritizing them led to focusing on only a few most important things. And that focus led to a transition for Elaine St. James from top producing realtor to top selling author.
Like tending a garden filled with a variety of plants, flowers, shrubs and trees, my life has been a constant process of trimming and eliminating, which then leads to healthier growth. It has been my experience that the better I prioritize and remove the non-essential, the farther I go.
This is a good time of year to step back a bit and evaluate how things are going. Don’t be hard on yourself. Rather, just retreat to a place that allows you to view your life through a wider lens. Scan the horizon and identify the people and things you value the most. Make a list of what you see.
Then prioritize that list. Then prioritize it a second and third time. Whittle it down until you are holding in your hands the essence of what you want your life to become in the next year, the next five years.
Living the Simple Life is a great title for a small, square book. It’s also an invitation to learn how to enjoy your life more. It’s an invitation to get a whole lot more of the few things that matter the most to you.