When I first saw the book cover of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was about the principles of minimalism. So, as you can imagine, I didn’t quite understand why it was "shelved" in the Psychology section of my online book store. A few pages in and I understood why it was categorized so.
By the end of the book, I understood that Greg McKeown’s Essentialism was about living a purposeful and meaningful life with less.
Less physical stuff? Sure!
But what I found particularly interesting about McKeown's perspective is his pinpoint application of living life through the elimination of the Nonessential.
The Nonessentials are all the things (e.g., clothes, nicknacks), events (e.g., second cousin's birthday, 4th and similar conference of the year) and people (e.g., notorious downers, draggers and criticizers) that make life too busy. For the most part, the Nonessential adds with minimal value, and most importantly takes us away from the Essential.
The Essentials are the HELL YEAHs, all the things, events and people that you are passionate about and don’t need to think twice about committing to. Whether it’s a work project or babysitting your niece for the 3rd time that month, the Essential will lift you up, excite your inner child, and/or revive your creativity and drive. The Essential tends to captivate our mind, body and soul, and engage us on a deeper level. It also challenges us to commit to something that we personally see of value.
Essentialism is the ability to say “no” to the Nonessential. Whether at home, at work or anywhere in between, essentialism helps up to hyper focus on the meaningful experiences.
And it takes a lot of courage to eliminate the Nonessential.
Ask yourself “Am I investing in the right activities?” or “What do I want to go big on?", because as McKeown says “if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will”.
McKeown offers that essentialism exists "only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, [once you can stop engaging in the nonessential, you can] make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”
Being an essentialist takes courage. It's hard to say “no” to your friend who’s constantly wanting you to go out with them, and it’s hard to say “no” to a colleague or boss who wants you to take up yet another “small” project. Saying “no” can be socially awkward. So (unfortunately) many of us may reluctantly say “yes” to such engagements that we instinctively know will derail us from our true direction.
By now you might be wondering: “How to I become an essentialist?"
McKeown simplifies the "how" by leaning on the German words: Weniger aber besser, which mean less but better. To put my own twist on it, I'd offer less AND better. In this way, less and better suggests that nothing is diminished by a choice in pursuit of wellness.
So I guess that in some ways my initial minimalist impression wasn’t too far off. This book is definitely not really about how to eliminate the physical junk in your life; however it is about streamlining your life. Eliminating the distractions that aren’t helping you achieve your life goals.
There are so many other insights that McKeown offered (like setting up an auto reply on your emails to let others know your are busy on a project and don't have time to respond immediately), but for the purpose of this book review I thought I'd stick to the essentials.
See what I did there?!? 🤣