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Why am I doing what I am doing? The perennial pursuit

, February 27, 2015, 0 Comments

How many times have you had more things on your to do list than what you could have realistically achieved? How many times do you feel that all the life’s motions are actually taking you nowhere? How many times have you actually taken up things only to regret and curse your stars for having landed with hapless activities? If you have gone through such feelings, here’s a perspective to ponder on. A respite from such predicaments lies in choosing to lead a siPerennial Pursuit-MarketExpress-inmple Essentialist way of living. It’s what Greg Mckeown, author of the book “Essentialism the disciplined pursuit of less” calls as the “doing less, but better, so you can make the highest possible contribution”.

There are many dilemmas which become a part and parcel of our life today. For instance consider that your precision and methodical approach of functioning has got you in the limelight at work. You are a natural choice for the handling of various activities. Every request or directive for completion of the task comes with an acknowledgement of your good work and a promise of a better tomorrow.

You hardly value some of these activities; in fact many of them seem to be a clear digression from your larger picture of life. What do you do in such a case? Do you simply go with the flow and convince yourself that ultimately all will stack up to fit the larger picture that you dreamt of? Do you continue with the motions with some amount of angst and hostility wishing you had the courage to just stay with what’s really important to you? Do you submit to the fact that life is not about making choices but about choosing to be happy with what you land up? Or do you go push back and stay with only those tasks that make sense to you?

Today’s life is all about making way through the tangle of innumerable options, opportunities and triggers that keep getting thrown at us all the time. In fact Marshall Goldsmith, an eminent executive coach who has worked with a 100 odd most successful CEOs of top companies of the world, puts it beautifully as, “ executives never say that they are trying to save a sinking ship; most feel that they are drowning in a sea of opportunities. We often face the challenge of over committing to more than what we can chew. We see our time get hijacked by mindless tasks that have no bearing on our future plans. Often times we find ourselves very busy overworked and occupied. But does this ensure that we are productive? We get caught up in what Jim Collins in his book “How the mighty fall?” calls “an undisciplined pursuit of more”.

What is the remedy? Essentialism, as advocated by Greg McKeown, is the art of doing fewer things but more meaningful ones that keep you on-track with the chosen path. It is about choosing to do what you really value, saying “NO” to all the non-essentials and resisting the lure to do all that comes your way. Is this approach not being egoistic and self-centered? Not at all. On the contrary it is identifying those things that got you there in the first place and sticking to those areas in which you feel most satisfied making significant contributions. Above all it is about committing to what matters the most.

In that sense essentialism is not a strategy. Rather it’s a way of life. It’s a constant check of whether your ladder is leaning against the right wall. It is also about checking the temptation of placing the ladder against as many walls as possible, constantly changing the perspective of the right wall. It is also refusing to succumb to the megalomaniac belief that I can do it all, and must do it all to feel worthy. Fundamentally it’s about taking charge of one’s life and choosing to do only that which is intrinsically rewarding.

The first step in this endeavor is to achieve an essentialist’s mindset is to reflect upon what are the most essential and fundamental pursuits in life. It is trying to transform the believes that “I have to”, “It’s all important” and “I can do all” to a more rational belief system that “I choose to”, “only few things matter” and “I can do anything but not everything”. Take Manoj, a highly successful executive of an FMCG company who felt wasted and entangled in a web of mindless pursuits. At 45, with 3 stents in his heart, a hole in his relationship with his loved ones and a prospect of wasting oneself on this road far away from his destination, he paused and reflected on a single thought of “what do I really want?” This clear and candid dialogue with self, helped him get connected to his true aspirations and choose wisely.

The 5 step model to Essentialism
Plan what’s critical
Ascertain the essential from the non-essential
Understand the trade-offs
Say no to the trivial
Engage in the vital

The next step is to develop the courage to say “no” to stations that do not take you to your destination. While we believe that one has to say a “yes” to the boss, client, shareholder, research proves that the most successful people frequently opt to say “no”, reset expectations and reason out with the other person to get their perspective acknowledged. Furthermore, successful people also have a hang on what really matters to them and stick to these fundamentals. Thus their real ace is the ability to identify the travails from the vital and to engage in only those tasks that finally matter. Rohit, a senior executive of an IT firm believed in a 24 by 7 accessible status for clients, colleagues and business partners.

He often times had multiple windows open on his device, with numerous pop ups intimating him of various messages, appointments etc. So much so that a family vacation meant carrying a barrage of gadgets such as a laptop, an ipad, an iphone, just to be connected. Soon he realized the nuisance value of these. He found it very difficult to concentrate or think on any matter amidst this humdrum. A few behavioral experiments made him realize that he is not as critical as he thought in the day to day activities. He explored and mastered the art of delegation, saw the merit of hibernating to focus on his inner compass and became an eternal essentialist who chose to focus only on the most vital aspects.

The understanding of Essentialism is incomplete without the discussion of tradeoffs. Essentialists accept the fact that life is all about tradeoffs. What will I gain and/or lose when I choose to do X vs Y. They weigh every opportunity against the potential tradeoffs. They choose their tradeoffs rather than the tradeoff choosing them as a victim.

To summarize, while essentialism does not guarantee a one stop solution to all miseries of life, it certainly helps one become a light house for oneself. It reminds oneself to look before one leaps and PAUSE before one pushes. Finally it is being happy as a matter of choice and not a matter of chance