It’s all well and good to say that health, relationship, passion, growth, and contribution count toward living better and longer with the life you are given. But how do you get the time and other resources you need to actually make it happen? For example, “I want to spend more time with my kids. How do I make that happen?
Of course, the answer is different for everyone. But we all have only so many hours in a day. Since we can’t create more, what can we do? My answer developed over time. But it started in college.
At about 10PM, when the screaming hungry alarm often went off, there was always Guy Payne to fall back on. Guy was the owner and operator of Guy’s Campus Deli, the only place to go for a late snack at Bucknell University. Guy’s was an oasis of sanity in the intellectual Sahara of Bucknell in the 50s.
One night, as I was standing in line to order my chive cheese on rye toast sandwich, I happened to lay on the counter my paperback copy of Henry Thoreau’s book Walden: Or Life in the Woods. The person next in line to a six inch red, plastic ruler out of his plastic shirt pocket protector, and laid it across the title. I don’t remember his name, but let’s call him Bob. Bob said nothing, but his sneer signified his obvious disapproval.
Now don’t get me wrong. I, too, have problems with Thoreau. But I loved his basic message.
It turned out, Bob was a Commerce and Finance major, specializing in Marketing. Apparently, Thoreau’s philosophy of “Simplify, simplify, simplify” did not square well with Bob’s passion to “Sell, sell, sell.”
At the time, Bob’s disapproval of my taste in books was just a minor incident in my student days. But over time, it has come back to haunt me many times. At spring break, or other times when I’d be home from school, I’d be watching TV with my parents. My parents did not seem to mind the commercials much. But to me and my college Sophomoric ways, they seemed silly and even obnoxious. Why would I want to see the USA in my Chevrolet, when my Dodge Coronet?
But apparently all the commercials I had been subjected to between my college days and the late 70’s worked. Because when I found myself having to sell my little farmstead in Maine, one of my biggest problems was finding a place for all the stuff I had accumulated over the years. In order to move into a three room apartment in Portland, had to find a place for 8 rooms, a basement and two attics plus two barns full of stuff.
What should I part with and what not? I stumbled upon a way of mitigating the agony of choices by purchasing a bunch of U-Haul boxes. Now, instead of only two choices, I had three: keep it, part with it, or put it in a box clearly labeled, so I could get access to it any time I wanted.
From this exercise I learned a principle that was to become the overriding priority of my life. Yes, it was Thoreau’s philosophy “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”
Apparently, I had been dragging stuff along much like Marley’s chains. For each time I made a conscious decision about whether to keep, pitch, or store some piece of my stuff, I felt noticeable relief from a tension I wasn’t even aware I had. When it was all over, and I had moved into my 3 room apartment, I was not only free from that tension, I was also free from the time it took to earn the money it took to buy stuff like that. Of course, Bob would have disapproved.
I continued to simplify. A move from Maine to rural, Western Massachusetts forced me to downsize all my possessions into what I could fit into a Civic station wagon. By then I was divorced, and my kids were off to college. I couldn’t have been happier with just a bed, a few dresser drawers, and a place to hang my jacket in the dormitory of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Healh. Not a lifestyle for everybody. But for me, it was just what I needed at the time.
By that time, I had simplified my expenses enough, that I now had time to do many more interesting and soul satisfying things than earn enough money to buy the stuff Bob thought I would have needed. Now I had time to pay significantly more attention to what’s really important to me in life – and to find the five priorities I would find to not only extend my life to the 79th year I now enjoy, but also to bring a richness that I’m guessing Bob will never know.
Funny thing is, while I was at Kripalu, I became fascinated by the internet, and got hired by the – guess what? Yes, the MARKETING department – to manage their website. Bob would have chuckled. But marketing took on a whole new meaning for me. It was not “Sell, sell, sell,” but became “Clarify, clarify, clarify.” It became my passion to help people get really clear about their deepest needs, and find the resources to meet those needs in ultimately fulfilling ways.
And along the way, I got clear about my own deepest priorities. It was only by really simplifying my life, my super-priority, that I had the time to unearth these sub-priorities, and give them the space they need to have an effect on my life.
- Health – If you haven’t got it, you’ve got nothing.
- Relationships – If they don’t work, what’s the point of your health?
- Passion – If you haven’t found it, you’re probably bored or boring.
- Growth – If you’re not evolving, you’re probably dying
- Contribution – If you’re not making a difference in the lives of others, you’re likely joylessly engrossed in yourself.