Every now and then I come across a book which is so thought-provoking that having reached the last page, I turn back to the beginning and start again. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less is one of those books.

On the platform, reading

The author, Greg McKeown, suggests three steps which the person who wishes to make the most of their life must take, and keep taking.

1) Decide what is most important. (Priority!)
2) Get rid of everything else.
3) Make the most important happen as easily as possible.

This applies not only to physical possessions, but (even more) to how you spend your time. “Dost thou love life?” Benjamin Franklin asks. “Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”

The first step reflects the undeniable fact that you cannot do (or have) it all. We cannot have every career, do every job, own all the clothes, or maintain all possible relationships. As Miss Pettigrew says, “There are times when decisions just have to be made, or you certainly will miss out.” Other people are generally only too happy to make these decisions for you – at worst, for what suits them, and at best, for what they think will suit you.

It's your decision

Of course, deciding what is really important in your life is seldom a quick or easy process, but then, it is your life. Worth taking the time, I would say.

Once the decisions have been made, comes the hard bit (what? you thought it was going to get easier from here?) – getting rid of the inessential. Clearing out one’s cupboards is relatively painless compared with learning to say no to people. Especially when what they are asking you to do is something good.

As a child, I read a book about a woman who went off to be a missionary in or near the Sahara. I don’t remember her name, or the author’s, or for that matter what the book was called. I’m not even sure it’s the same book. What I do remember is something she was told as a child: the good is often the enemy of the best.

Horatius at the Bridge

The good is often the enemy of the best. Because there isn’t room in your life for everything, and the best is outnumbered. Because the good is defensible, because you can rationalize it away, because it’s often easier, because people will be happy with you.

The good is often the enemy of the best. Give no quarter; stand your ground.

And the third step? Same time, same place, next week.
Because the third step, mild as it seems when compared to the first two, is actually a complete game-changer.

Do You Have…

a) not enough stuff?
b) too much stuff?
c) the right amount of stuff?
d) the right amount, but the wrong stuff?
e) none of the above (please elucidate)


Who Would You Be If You Weren't Who You Are?

You know, the old “two roads diverged in a wood” scenario.

The road not taken. - - 1077046

I think everyone has, at some point in their life, faced a decision that will have an effect on the rest of their life. And if you haven’t yet, don’t worry: you will.

It’s generally fairly obvious that the decision is a major one: a move, a job, a relationship. Sometimes you don’t find out until later that the seemingly minor decision was actually the one which determined the course of your subsequent life, but usually it is helpfully signposted. Big Important Decision! You Can’t Afford To Screw This Up! No pressure…

For me, the decision came at the end of my last year at university – that’s the other thing about these important decisions, they’re usually impeccably timed for the most inconvenient possible moment.
Over the course of the year I had been seriously considering becoming a nun. Because what eccentric could resist a hat like this?

Bundesarchiv Bild 121-0320, Krakau, Gefängnis Montelupich, Klosterschwester

I jest, it wasn’t the Flying Nun headgear that attracted me.
To live in community, but in quietness, not noise; to have a regular routine, and the support of others in keeping to it; to not have to wonder about what to wear every morning; to live a life fully devoted to keeping the two great commands of Christ – love God and love others; these were all incentives.

But then….
I met the Caped Gooseberry.

Fortunately for all concerned, I didn’t loiter at the crossroads as long as Jane Christmas, who went to try life as a nun after her partner had proposed.
It fairly quickly became apparent to me that my calling did not lie in the monastic direction. Two roads diverged and I… I took the one less travelled by (there being a large number of monastic orders and only one Caped Gooseberry).

While there are still aspects of monastic life which appeal to me, I have no regrets. Particularly since most of the appealing bits can be enjoyed to some extent within the bonds of holy matrimony – although people will look at you oddly if you stroll around with habit and husband. I hear.
If we’d gone for a Japanese-style ceremony, I could even have had the starchy headgear…

A bride on her wedding day at Meiji Shrine, Tokyo, Japan

What roads have diverged in your life – and what lay down the paths you didn’t take?