The Way of an Essentialist
I have trouble saying no. Don’t get me wrong, I know how to say no, but I don’t like “letting people down”. I feel like I’m less Christian when I turn down good opportunities. Over the years I’ve learned that there’s a big difference between good opportunities and God opportunities. When I try to be all things to all people, I wind up being stretched way too thin. I wasn’t designed to do it all.
This led me to read Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. There are tons of other productivity out there. Everyone’s classic go to work is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. So what does McKeown offer that’s different? I think McKeown shines a light on a neglected area in many people’s lives—auditing for no.
Let me explain. More often than not, I find it hard to say no when I don’t know what direction I want to move in my career, family, ministry, and finances. In other words, I haven’t audited my life to give me the ability to say no. Two things I think are important in auditing our lives that I gleaned from McKeown’s book.
1. Realize Your Limitations
McKeown notes, “There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in.” I can’t do everything. I can’t be everywhere. In essence, I’m not God. And that’s okay. That role is filled. Here’s what I can do. I can be who God has called me to be in my very limited time on this earth. Realizing my limitations is a good start to discovering that call.
2. Acknowledge Priorities
I love this line from the book. “If you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.” There’s so much truth and wisdom in that statement. Some people let their bosses prioritize their lives. Others let their google calendar do it. If we’re not careful, we become slaves to other people’s priorities. Auditing our lives gives us the freedom to prioritize what is important to us (and God).
McKeown sums it up in saying: “The way of the Essentialist isn’t about setting New Year’s resolutions to say ‘no’ more, or about pruning your in-box, or about mastering some new strategy in time management. It is about pausing constantly to ask, ‘Am I investing in the right activities?’”
Jesus knew Essentialism all too well. He ran against competing priorities every day. But he had a fully audited life.
Remember, Jesus own family gave him priorities. As firstborn, he was responsible for the family’s well-being in the event Joseph died. There’s evidence in the gospels Joseph died during Jesus’ life. It makes sense, then, that Jesus’ family was constantly looking for him and thought he was crazy. Come take care of your family, Jesus! He was going against cultural norms because he had one assignment from his father. He had one priority in his life–the cross. Jesus was an essentialist. You should be one too.
Have you taken time to realize your limitations? Or are you trying to do everything for everybody? What is your priority in life? What other things threaten to pull you in too many different directions this new year? Don’t let them. Please.
I’m grateful for this timely read early in the year. It has helped me to correctly approach my own goals and to dedicate time to things (and people) that matter most for me. I would commend it to anyone who feels stretched thin or who feels they can’t say no to others.