“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu
This past week a great friend told me she was working on “thinning out her life”.
I was so struck by the analogy I had to pause to reflect on it and asked her if I could use it. She chuckled and gracefully agreed.
Paring down, de-cluttering, minimalism are words we hear almost every day as ways to improve our lives, relationships and even careers. Rarely do we think of what it’s opposite truly means. Amassing, increasing, maximizing – these don’t sound like bad concepts right? But if you think of it in terms of thickening then it starts to feel oppressive and heavy. A force that can slow you down.
So how do we thin out our lives so we are just left feeling light, airy and free?
For years I have been following Leo Babatua’s blog Zen Habits and like many of his readers, I credit his writing and personal example for instigating a profound change in the way I look at life and even my writing. (If you don’t follow his blog already, you really must…. just wait until after this article…)
While he doesn’t use the term “thinning” this is essential what Babatua has done. He has habitually and regularly looked at his life, work, health and focus and has parboiled them down to the very essentials. He credits this ongoing process with greater enjoyment in life and an openness to the things that truly makes him happy (seriously, the man has 6 children, it is beyond inspirational that he can manage to read an article let alone inspire an entire collective!)
Most of us agree that our lives are so rammed full of tasks, obligations, chores and to-dos that we can’t see the forest for the trees. We employ housecleaners, nannies, assistants, professional organizers and personal assistants to help us manage the paucity of our time and near-crazy amount of stuff (not that any of these professionals aren’t valuable for some at times). We rely on calendars, schedules, convenience foods, alerts and reminders to help us wade through the fog. Work! Exercise! Family Time! Housecleaning! Commute! Trapeze lessons!
As a society we seem to value jamming in as much as we can and yet no one feels like they are the better for it, they are just scared to miss out.
What I have found is that social media strategy mirrors life.
We try to thicken our brand out there, hoping it will stick but all that seems to do is clog our very obviously strapped resources until we aren’t sure we are in fact making an impact so we rush to change directions and thicken the pot further by stirring in an opposite way or adding more to the pot.
Does that work? Usually it doesn’t and the cycle begins again until someone wakes up and says “Whaaaaat happened?!”
Personally I think it’s because we aren’t prepared to thin out our strategy just as most aren’t prepared to thin out their lives.
Because a padded wallet or a high Klout score or full dance card or Facebook Fan Page that rivals Humans of New York feels more secure than taking the time to really think about where you want to spend your time and attentions. We try to add because we are taught that the more we have – the better we will feel. Also, it can be scary to leave space (if you don’t believe me just try to be silent for 2 minutes in the middle of your next face-to-face conversation and see how quickly everyone –including yourself- rushes to fill the void).
Some wise old wives some time ago sagely said: to make room for anything new, something else has to go.
Maybe for you that’s letting the housework slide a little or getting rid of the automated marketing software or allowing the space and time for your ideas to take hold out there. Maybe it’s saying buh-bye to the need for formulas or SEO optimization and instead focusing on writing what you want to the way you want to, authentically. Maybe its focusing on truly connect with a single client and ensuring that person feels valued and heard then concentrating on how many saw your latest Instagram post.
Traffic isn’t key if no one is staying on your road.
Being followed by a million is useless if no one is paying attention.
Life is fleeting because it’s made up of several moments in a finite amount of space. Likes, followers and traffic are ways we balloon ourselves out hoping to keep ourselves soaring higher and higher as a buffer against the inevitable pins to come.
Perhaps we should try to be thinner, without any hot air at all, and that way we would simply float onto the pins and off it again gently without ever having to worry about being popped into oblivion.