Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Simplify.

I have the privilege of having a birthday at the beginning of the calendar year, so I get to go through the process of New Year's resolutions as well as thinking about the year of my life to come all at the same time. Every year (more or less), I think about what my goals are for the year to come, and I often write them out in some sort of entry here. Last year, I was exhaustive in my approach as I divided my life into thirteen basic categories, and I concocted a scheme in which I divided my goals for the year into resolutions (definite goals), intentions (orienting myself that way, but not disappointed if it doesn't happen), and aspirations ("if it happens, great").

As I started to review these thirty-nine statements (!) recently, I realized that almost none of them actually happened, regardless of whether they were resolutions, intentions, and aspirations. In fact, I moved further away from some of those goals than I ever had been in the past, particularly in the last quarter of the year, and although none of them seem silly, necessarily, they at least seem inaccessible for now. I think I needed to have it be that complex for this last season, because I have started to realize that I need to change the way I do things - which brings me to this year.

Simplify.


As I have been thinking about the year that was in 2013 and the year that is to come in 2014 for me, one word has stuck out above all others in regard to vision for my life: "simplify." That's it. That's my goal, resolution, intention, aspiration, affirmation - whatever else you want to call it - for the foreseeable future. "Simplify." is the lens through which I am looking at life in this season. It's funny and ironic, because I wanted to make it more than just one word. I thought about "identify", "modify", and other iffy "-ify" words, but in the end, the one word that resonated was, simply, "simplify."

Of course there are things that I would like to accomplish over the next twelve months, but I do not feel the need to have to elucidate them all or to even think about them. I still have a not-insignificant to-do list of errands and projects, some of which have carried over from the thirty-nine statements from 2013, but my focus is not on that list. It's on the process of simplifying my entire life. If something fits and has a future, that's great. If it's now part of my past and I leave it behind, that's great, too. Part of this process is that there's no "no-brainers"; almost everything can be up for grabs.

Why am I simplifying?


A significant part of why I am simplifying is that I have too much clutter in my life, and too much that is distracting me from the things that are most important: my relationships with Jesus, my wife, and others; my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being; and having joy, purpose, and meaning in my life. I have let things build up for too long, like a fog that has crept in slowly but that now fills almost all of my immediate vision. I have not been doing well over the past few months, and part of what I need to do is to let things go and to simplify everything to come back to those important things.

I was thinking about this idea of simplifying a week ago, and I decided that I needed to pray about it. When I stopped to talk to Jesus about it, a couple of really cool things happened. First of all, I saw this CD cover, of The City Harmonic's new album Heart, which has had an incredible impact on me in the past four months; it's one of those albums that reveals something new every time I hear it. Take a glance at the cover.

Now look at it again. Do you see it now? I didn't for several months: the image of Jesus on the cross is watermarked in the background. When I simplified things and stopped and really looked, he was right there. Huh.

As I continued praying, Jesus showed me a picture of me crawling around in thick fog. He was speaking, and I was trying to find him, but I couldn't see him in the thickness of the fog around me. Then he said, simply, "stand up." In my vision, I stood, and I quickly realized two things: the fog was only waist-high; and he was right there, in front of me. The answer, it turned out, was actually quite simple, even though I was making it complicated. Jesus was there, just waiting to be seen, just like the album cover.

What does it mean to simplify?


The question that I have had to work through is what it means to simplify, whether it means getting rid of everything I own or deleting all but fifty of my Facebook contacts or quitting everything I am doing or some other equally drastic measure. The good news is that that's not what I have to do. This simplification process is about losing unnecessary baggage overall; it will include reducing some personal possessions and deleting social network connections and leaving activities, but I do not have to be legalistic about it. My goal is to not only trim the fat from my life, but to lose some weight and to refine my muscle (to extend the analogy).

Whatever it is that I am simplifying - whether stuff or people or involvements - I am going through a similar process that involves asking myself some key questions. Is this still a meaningful part of my life? If I were to get rid of this item (or delete this contact or stop this activity or...), would I miss it? Do I see this being part of my future, or is it just part of my past? Or, is this part of who I thought I could be or would be or should be at some point, and I just need to let it go based on who I am now?

How will I simplify?


The next question is the practical ramifications of how to implement this simplification process, as there are a lot of different facets to this process. I have already started in a couple of areas, particularly the ones that are a little easier. I have spent some time going through my collections - board games, video games, books, etc. - and I am happy to not only be ridding myself of some of the items that I will not use, but also to be receiving value for them in return (more on that in a future post). I am consolidating my contact lists from various sources and starting from there. I am prioritizing some of the tasks that have been on my "to-do" list (some for years) to be able to simplify my lists going forward. But those are the (mostly) easy ones to do.

I find that leaving an activity or organization that I love to be a part of is much more difficult, even if I know I need to do it, regardless of how long I've been investing myself into it. I find it much more challenging to be as ruthless when I'm dealing with this level of simplifying, unlike attorney and entrepreneur Bob Goff, who encourages people to quit something everything Thursday, as he does. I am evaluating everything closely, and reminding myself that there is no such thing as a "no-brainer." I have already had to make one hard decision, as I resigned as a general manager in a legacy hockey pool in which I have participated for 8.5 years. I needed to leave it behind for now as part of my simplification, even if just as a beginning to the rest of the process.

The results of simplifying


This isn't the first time that I have gone through my life with this kind of extensive rigor. The other periods in my life that have been similarly intensively reflective and subsequently transformative took place over the course of a month or so, and they both came at the conclusion of a period of life and immediately preceded significant transitions to a new chapter. I do not know if there is similarly something new coming for me in the future, but I do know that I need to take the time and space that I have now to do this while I can in order to be prepared for whatever is to come. I know from my experience that although this process seems difficult at the time that I am always glad to have gone through it afterward. It's going to take a couple of months to make it through, and I will second guess myself and I will need to come back to this post and that one word - "simplify." to help remind me what I'm doing, and why I'm doing it, and how it will happen. And then, one day, I'll look back and be glad for this simplifying process and laugh at how it all unfolded.

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