Sometimes competence and ambition work against us. We follow conventional wisdom and get a good education. We dive into a career, work hard, and ascend to higher levels of responsibility and leadership.
Just ask Linda Souza. She obtained a master’s degree in global marketing, communications, and advertising. She spent many years at different startups. She liked the creativity of her work, but as she ascended into higher positions, things changed.
As Souza told The Huffington Post, “It wasn’t that interesting,” adding, “But it sort of felt like, this is what you do to continue to advance.”
A sense of possibility
Souza became vice president of marketing for a Los Angeles-based tech startup. Unfortunately, the creative work she used to enjoy gave way to Monday morning meetings and forecasting dull budget models.
What do you do when your professional work no longer brings you fulfillment? For Linda Souza, the answer was simple: Become a circus performer.
According to an article in The Huffington Post, Souza “found a coupon for two introductory aerial classes on an online discount site and signed up on a whim, hoping to try something new after a breakup.”
“There’ll always be serendipity involved in discovery.” -Jeff Bezos
Before long, Souza was hooked. She went on to become an instructor as an aerial performer. She convinced her boss to cut back her hours to three days a week, which allowed more time to pursue her new passion.
Souza acknowledged that she’s lucky to have a flexible tech job allowing more time to teach aerial classes. The reduced income has meant no more big vacations, and less shopping, but she’s happier.
As The Huffington Post article noted: “Instead of more material things, Souza said, she has gained a sense of possibility, time to explore an unexpected passion, and the freedom to tap into her creativity and physical strength.”
Enormously overloaded property room
Edgar Alwin Payne was an American Western landscape painter and muralist. His book, Composition of Outdoor Painting, is somewhat of a bible for many dedicated landscape painters.
Payne writes in his book that landscapes are, “enormously overloaded property rooms.” All that stuff out there, from rocks and trees to mountains, streams, and clouds, can be intimidating to paint. They can overwhelm an aspiring landscape painter.
“The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.” -Walt Whitman
The solution is to break things down. Landscape painters start by asking themselves what the painting is about. What is the main idea?
Then the painter tackles the big shapes, to create a pleasing design and composition. Doing this makes it much easier, later on, to render fine details. However, the strongest paintings keep things simple. They focus on the main idea, and not all the extraneous detail.
A successful landscape painting requires the artist to do two things:
Organize and simplify
The principles of successful landscape painting are a good analogy for successful living. If you want to get more out of life, it helps to organize and simplify.
Our lives get more stressful when there are endless details and complications. We get bogged down with the minutia and forget the big picture. We get lost in that enormous property room of life and lose sight of the things that make us happiest.
A good landscape painter starts by asking what the painting will be about. What’s the main idea? Similarly, we need to ask ourselves what our life is about? What is the main idea?
My life is about creativity. Namely, writing and creating artwork. I retired early from my law enforcement career, sacrificing a larger pension to pursue my main idea.
Even during the busy years of my police career and raising my son, I organized and simplified facets of my life to have more time for my writing and artwork.
Like a complicated landscape, there were many distractions, commitments, and obligations. By organizing and simplifying, I was able to craft a more successful life.
Everything in my life actually had a purpose
Sometimes, it’s the unexpected upsets in life that can unexpectedly open the door to effective organizing and downsizing. Consider the story of Joshua Fields Millburn.
Millburn was making a six-figure salary at a demanding job, but blowing his income on endless shopping. Then life got difficult. His mother died of cancer and his marriage fell apart.
Millburn happened to watch a Twitter video about minimalism, and it changed his life. Minimalism is all about identifying what is essential in your life and eliminating the rest. In short, less is more.
Above caricature is of noted minimalist Joshua Becker
Millburn began unloading all the stuff he realized he didn’t need. He spent eight months getting rid of everything until he had only 280 possessions left. He managed to pay off over $100,000 in debt, moved, and launched the successful website The Minimalists with his buddy Ryan Nicodemus.
Millburn was finally able to focus on two things that were important to him: his writing career, and physical fitness.
In an interview with The Huffington Post, Millburn said, “As I pared down my stuff, I started changing how I viewed things,” adding, “Then everything in my life actually had a purpose, or brought me joy.”
“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people they don’t like.” -Will Rogers
Like a successful landscape painter who focuses on the big idea instead of the details, Millburn organized and simplified his life. As a result, he is healthier and happier today.
How about you? Are you drowning in the endless details and minutia of life? Are you ready to organize and simplify your life? Here are several tips to help you organize and simplify that enormously overloaded property room of life.
How to simplify your life
The following 5 tips all flow from a minimalist philosophy that less is more.
In this day and age of ubiquitous technology, choosing to consume less may seem counterintuitive. Many people are glued to their TVs, social media, text messages, and endless Amazon deliveries. They don’t want to “miss out” on anything. But are they truly happy?
Take a close look at your budget and ask what you need. Think how much fitter you’d be if you used all that TV and social media time to exercise? Not to mention if you skipped more of those beer-busts and wine parties.
Imagine the reduced stress of a simpler wardrobe, instead of a stuffed closet. Ditto for that garage of yours that has become its own “enormously overloaded property room.”
Learn to say no
People are happy to spend your time for you if you let them. I used to be shy about saying no to people, and as a result, I got walked all over. They would march into my office and distract me when I was busy. Others would flatter me and then ask for something that infringed on my time.
Eventually, out of frustration, I learned the power of saying no. I was gracious, but became adept at turning people down. When they pressed, I would say, “Thanks for thinking of me, but I’ll never reach my personal goals as a writer and artist if I take on more responsibilities.”
“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage pleasantly, smilingly, and non-apologetically- to say “no” to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger yes burning inside.” -Stephen Covey
I made time for important events, like weddings and funerals. And sometimes, I’d say yes to commitments for a big reason, like investing in a valued friendship. But for the less important, myriad requests that came my way, I got comfortable turning people down. So can you.
Stop living in the past
Who we used to be, and the things that happened to us in the past, don’t get to define who we are today, or who we can become tomorrow.
Part of organizing and simplifying your life is learning to let go of self-limiting thoughts born out of past experiences. For some, professional help may be needed to deal with past issues of abuse or neglect. The key is to organize and simplify your mind so that the past no longer stands in the way of your dreams.
“When you hold onto a script that doesn’t serve you, you leave no space to write a new one that does.” -Jennifer Ho
It’s helpful to write down in a journal the person you want to become. Next, identify the habits and routines necessary for that vision to come to fruition. From there, create a calendar to track your progress. Block in pockets of time to work on the things that matter most to you.
Let go of the past, envision the future you deserve, and anything is possible.
Along the lines of consuming less, consider downsizing your life. Do you need to be chained to that big mortgage or BMW payments? What if you moved to a smaller house and traded in that status car for a more affordable, used vehicle?
Smaller homes cost less, require less stuff to furnish them, require less cleaning and maintenance.
A reliable Toyota will cost you a lot less than a Mercedes. When fewer things “own” us, we end up with more cash and time to pursue our passions. Relocation is another option. After I retired early from my police career, I moved from Northern California to Southern Nevada. I found a superior house for less money and lower property taxes. Even better, Nevada has no state income tax, thus saving me more of my hard-earned pension.
Moving also afforded me anonymity. Lots of people knew me in the small town where I served as chief of police. Coffee shop visits inevitably turned into unexpected encounters. I often found my quiet reading time interrupted to answer questions about the police department or town politics.
“If what you are doing is not moving you towards your goals, then it’s moving you away from your goals.” -Brian Tracy
As much as I liked the locals in town, I needed space to read, think, and write. Not to mention, retired police chiefs are often asked to sit on boards or get involved in city projects. After 26 years of community service, I was ready to embrace my creative life. Relocating to a different city gave me the freedom to start a new life of art and writing.
Abandon toxic relationships
According to Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and human development at California State University, San Bernardino, “A toxic relationship is one that adversely impacts a person’s health and well-being.”
In an article at mydomaine.com, Dr. Campbell goes on to state:
Because we spend so much of our time and energy on a romantic partner, these relationships are especially influential on our well-being. When they are going well, we are usually doing well. But when they are not going well, our health and happiness will likely be negatively affected.
If you feel like you’re walking on eggshells in your relationship, or putting in all the effort with little in return, these can be red flags. Other warning signs can be if your partner is overly controlling, or you feel your self-esteem stifled by your partner. As Dr. Campbell notes in the article:
If you notice that your partner is jealous, competitive, and generally unhappy when you are doing well, then that’s a huge red flag.
Toxic relationships can also exist in friendships. At some point, you have to evaluate if the positives outweigh the negatives.
The next step is to address your concerns with your partner or friend. This is seldom easy, but positive change will never happen unless you identify the issues and work together to fix them.
Sometimes people can change, and a toxic relationship can evolve into a healthy one. If not, then it’s time to move on. Ending toxic relationships is difficult, but you deserve to be happy.
Addressing toxic relationships is part of organizing and simplifying your life. Letting go of such relationships removes a huge weight, and allows you to get on with your life.
It’s never too late
Linda Souza simplified her life by cutting back on work hours and embracing her passion for aerial performance.
The late painter Edgar Alwin Payne taught artists to organize and simplify their landscape paintings. He likened the complexity of landscapes to an “enormously overloaded” property room. Much like the endless details and commitments in our lives can overwhelm us. The key is to organize and simplify.
Joshua Fields Millburn walked away from a six-figure job and countless possessions because his life was too complicated and unfulfilling. He organized and simplified. The changes allowed him to relocate and focus on his physical fitness and writing career.
I retired early from my law enforcement career, sacrificing a bigger pension because I wanted to write and create artwork fulltime.
I organized and simplified my life. I sold, donated, and trashed a bunch of stuff. I adopted a simpler wardrobe. I moved to a more affordable city with lower taxes. The result is that I’m happier and able to pursue my passions. This is what happens when you simplify your life.
How about you? It’s never too late to organize and simplify your life. Take advantage of the tips in this article. Learn more about the benefits of minimalism. Doing so might just change the whole trajectory of your life, and move you closer to your dreams.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint landscapes, and write about life. Get on my free email list here for the latest cartoons and writing.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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Illustrations by John P. Weiss