For years I struggled with the pressure to juggle a million responsibilities at once. I was in college, working a part-time job, and trying to progress in my career, all while finding time to exercise, take care of myself, enjoy my hobbies, give back to my community, and be the best friend, partner, and daughter I could be.
Just thinking about my to-do list would be enough to make me break out into hives. I was stressed, overworked, and overwhelmed, and I eventually crashed from exhaustion. I realized I was suffering from burnout and I was forced to come to terms with the fact that it was not sustainable, productive, or healthy for me to continue living this way.
I was taking some time to breathe, slow down, and re-evaluate when a friend of mine introduced me to a concept that changed my whole world — Essentialism. Essentialism, in a nutshell, is the disciplined pursuit of less. Coined by author Greg McKeown (author of the book of the same name), Essentialism is a way of life that focuses on doing less, to achieve more. It’s a system for anyone who feels stretched too thin and unsatisfied with the constant busyness of their lives.
According to McKeown, Essentialism is the practice of constantly weeding out the unimportant and nonessential, to focus on what truly matters. It focuses on the idea that you can do anything in life, you just can’t do everything and so, you must let some things go, in order to succeed at what matters most.
I decided that if I was going to move forward in a healthy and productive way, my life needed
a heavy dose of Essentialism. As McKeown outlines in the book, the first step to successfully implementing the concept is to permit yourself to stop trying to do everything.
This step was simple, but it was not easy. I had to face all of the pressure I had been feeling from my parents, my college, my peers, my job, and most of all, from myself and find the strength to let it go and stop letting that pressure dictate my life. It took time and a lot of meditation, journaling, and introspection, but I got there.
I realize that when I spread myself too thin, I diluted my efforts and didn’t really get anywhere. For example, I love to learn languages. I’d get so excited about learning languages that I would add a new one to my schedule, frantically studying Japanese before I’d even learned how to say “pass the salt” in Portuguese.
That is until I realized that after years of dating my Brazilian partner, I still couldn’t communicate well with their family. I was frustrated and disappointed with myself and finally admitted that I wasn’t making any progress in any language by trying to learn them all at once.
It was only when I decided to focus on Portuguese and discard the rest (for now, not forever), that I began to see some real progress and felt the satisfaction of prioritizing. Now, I can speak conversational Portuguese and live in São Paulo, so I’m improving daily.
To implement Essentialism, I found I had to ask myself what truly matters to me. Clarity is essential to the process. After all, you can’t readjust your life without a clear image of what you want and where you want to go.
So, I dug deep and got clear about my goals and what exactly it is I need to be focusing on right now to achieve them. You could meditate, pray, or journal but for me, I always love to find myself a huge sheet of cardboard and spend a day alone, writing down all of my thoughts, goals, hopes, and dreams until every inch of the paper is covered. Then, I get to work and adjust my life accordingly.
There is no shame in un-committing. You should see it as a gift and a way to free up your most valuable resource, your time.
I gave up my second part-time job to focus on my studies in my final year of college. I gave up my morning runs because I realized I needed more sleep to function at my peak. I’ve even stopped focusing on some unfulfilling friendships to cultivate a handful of deeper and better relationships.
It was tough at times, but I can confidently say that these small changes have improved my life because removing things from my life that don’t serve me is an act of self-love. It is a deliberate trade-off that allows me to make space for something better.
Essentialism is not an easy practice. It requires discipline, self-awareness, and grace, but it changed my world for the better. In time I felt more energized, I found more success in both my studies and my career and I cultivated true inner peace and a deeper and more loving relationship with myself and those around me.