“It is the ability to choose which makes us human.” — Madeleine L’Engleakes
The other night at my Sunday dinner, my friend Chelsea asked me if I had read the book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less”by Greg McKeown.
When I told her no, she said: “If anyone needs to read that book, it’s you!” By the next morning, the book had arrived at my front door with an inscription to “get reading!”
I love when friends suggest books or articles to read because I love to learn. I am constantly searching for ways to be a better, more evolved human being, as well as a more focused and effective leader at work.
Chelsea told me that “Essentialism” resonated with her on many levels, but that there was one point in particular that really stayed with her. It was the author’s message that if we want to rise from “good to great” in our work and our lives, then we must identify what we’re most passionate about and apply the bulk of our effort and energy there. If we get focused and pick the things that matter most to you, then it will empower you to say “yes” to opportunities that align with your priorities and say “no” to everything else.
“What are two areas you want to be great in?” Chelsea asked me and others at dinner last Sunday. “I want to be a great skier and a great writer. Maria, what about you?”
Good God, I thought. I haven’t even read the book yet. I’m passionate about so many things. How could I possibly pick just two?
After Chelsea left, I found myself mulling over her question. You see, the truth is that my focus, my passions and my priorities have changed as I have changed over the years. In my 20s, I wanted to be a great journalist and a great girlfriend. In my 30s, I wanted to be a great mother and a great wife. In my 40s, I wanted to be a great mother and a great First Lady for the state of California and for the people I served. In my 50s, I found myself stretched thin with many roles: mother, wife, First Lady, daughter, caregiver to two aging parents, etc.
Now, I’m in the sixth decade of my life and, ironically, I feel younger, lighter, more alive, and more focused than I have felt in decades. There is also so much that I’m doing and still want to do.
I’ve always believed that age is simply a number on the page. I know people younger than me who act older in every way. I also know people who are older and have twice the energy and stamina that I do. (Speaking of which, I’m always inspired when I see individuals older than myself running for president. That takes more energy, more drive, more stamina, and more focus than almost anything.)
I always tell my kids that their ambitions, their goals and their priorities will change and evolve over their lifetime. It’s not only necessary, but it’s healthy, I say. Who wants to be the same person at 60 that they were at 30? I wish we would stop putting an age after people’s names (our political leaders included) and instead ask “What do you value? Where are you focusing your energy?”
Now, one week after my Sunday dinner, I’m still contemplating my friend’s question. What are one or two things that I want to focus my life on today?
I have to admit that the idea of focusing on just two things feels, well, limiting. Being a great mother is still one of my main priorities. So, too, are being a journalist, a leader and an advocate for women’s health through my nonprofit The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement.
But as I’ve started to read the book “Essentialism,” I’m coming to learn that the lesson is not to eliminate the things you care about from your life. It’s simply to get laser-focused on why they matter to you so that when the world presents you a whirlwind of distractions and other people’s priorities, you can get clear on your goals and gracefully say “no” to everything that would get in the way of them. Setting boundaries and saying “no” is never easy, but we owe it to ourselves to do both if we want to be the architects of our own lives.
I believe that focusing more on what truly matters will help me be more effective in all areas of my life. Now, the question to myself is, “What do I choose?”
I ask the same question to you. “What are the two things you want to be great at? Do you know? Are there other things in your life that are getting in the way of your goals? If so, how can you get focused?”
I’ve been thinking for some time now that I need to do less, so I know that focusing on this question is a good thing. It’s just not the easiest thing to do!
Thanks, Chelsea! Thanks a lot.
Dear God, please help me honor the gifts you’ve granted me and the precious time you’ve given me here on this Earth. Help me to make the most of both and cherish them fully. Amen.
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