leadership advice: simplification changes everything
I’ve been on a mission the last few years to simplify my life. It actually began out of necessity a few years earlier as I combined households with a man who was a more accomplished “collector” than I was. How did we ever get all this STUFF?! So, it began… an item by item triage that put everything in a category of keep, sell, gift/donate, or throw away. Little did I know that this lesson would carry over to other aspects of my life as well.
In this country, we’ve all become massive collectors. It goes way beyond the laughable “the person with the most toys wins.” Some economist might call it consumerism, but we don’t really consume it all. Most of the time it just sits there, taking up space. When you start running out of spaces to put things, we often move into bigger spaces. In 1973, the average square footage of a new construction home in the US was 1,525. By 2010, it had grown to 2,169.
Two years ago, we downsized again into a home roughly half the size. Some things went into storage, but for the most part, we simplified again – taking only what we really needed and loved. No clutter. Pretty soon simplification spilled over into other areas of our life. Our meals became smaller and a lot healthier. It was amazing how good all this felt – like I had more breathing room. And breathe I did.
I found myself drawn to meditation and yoga. The simple act of following my breath increased my awareness of all that is going on around me. I became more aware of all the mind chatter and began to recognize the voice of ego and the fears it works so hard to protect. “By doing less, we sense more,” states Ginny Whitelaw in The Zen Leader. This act of simplification is at the very heart of the “flip,” from Controlling to Connecting.
In leadership, “we can experience this flip when we do less ourselves and reach out to others more,” continues Ginny. “When leaders have delegated away many of their everyday tasks to attend the programs I teach, I always caution them about how much they take back when they return on Monday morning. Who can help? Who can learn from this? Where else in the organization could we get support? The more we connect with people around us and their ideas, the more we scale beyond the capacity of being merely a ‘one-man-band.’ Not only does connection help leadership scale to greater levels, but it’s even essential for the uptake of our individual efforts…It is the flip that gets people moving with us, not because they have to, but because our connectedness brings them along.”
Connectedness rewards us in many ways. In its most complete state, we experience Samadhi – where “I” disappears and we reach total absorption in the moment. Athletes call it being “in the zone.” But this is not something we can will, rather it is a natural state that arises on its own. We can nurture the conditions for Samadhi through meditation and breath. If you’ve never tried this, here are some basic exercises from The Zen Leader that are both relaxing and rejuvenating. I encourage you to give them a try.
Simplification has taught me many things. I have learned that I don’t need half the things I once thought were important to own. Letting go of material things has allowed me to more easily let go of other things, like anger and disappointment. I also worry less because I spend more time in the moment rather than role-playing future scenarios that never play out. The greater “space” in my life allows me to connect more with people and activities I enjoy. Less is more – I get it now.
I invite you to do this simple experiment. Right now, focus on where you are. Take in your whole surroundings, the smell of the air, the posture of your body and the feeling of your clothes, the things around you. Pick one thing you see. Is it important to you? If it is, appreciate its function and place in your life. Is it something you really don’t need? Then do what I did and sell it, gift it, or throw it away… and enjoy the freedom that begins to develop 🙂