If you were to walk along the Seaport Village promenade in San Diego, you would most likely come across piles of precariously stacked rocks lining the edge of the water.
In an effort to attract the attention of tourists, stones of all shapes and sizes are placed on top of each other in what seems to be random fashion. Some rocks are big, others are small, and the rest are somewhere in between.
As a passerby, you can’t help but marvel at how the stack is able to stay upright! While it is awe-inspiring, one can only imagine that a large gust of wind or the smallest of hands could send the whole thing toppling over.
Isn’t this a reflection of many of our lives?
We desperately balance commitments and priorities of varying shapes and sizes, and then we present it all to the outside world in a way that makes it seem as if we have it all together. In reality, we are just trying to stand up straight.
At what point do we decide to unstack the rocks, set some aside, and keep only the ones we have the capacity to hold?
Fortunately for us, we are given obvious signs know when it’s time to simplify:
1) We are easily agitated or angry.
A few years ago, I came to the end of a thirty-year chapter in my career. For a long time I had seen nothing but movement and success professionally, and the whirlwind was about to come to an end.
As I began to unwind and slow down, I noticed that I had become easily agitated and quick to anger. Thirty years of non-stop action and over-commitment was catching up with me, and I knew it was time to begin the process of intentionally simplifying my life.
Have you been here before?
Have you found that the littlest of things rub you the wrong way? Do you lash out unnecessarily at the people who care about you the most?
Agitation and anger may be signs that your body, mind and spirit are worn out from being pulled in multiple directions, and it’s time to simplify.
2) We numb ourselves.
According to a study cited by CNN, traces of cocaine can be found on 90% of money circulating in the U.S.
We live in a society where people are desperate to numb themselves – from fear, from stress, from pain.
In my experience, the struggle of trying to juggle competing priorities and personal commitments became so overwhelming that I resorted to numbing my inner turmoil with alcohol.
For a long time I thought I could manage the fear and pain by numbing myself, but eventually I hit a brick wall of exhaustion, poor health and a near nervous breakdown.
If you find yourself hitting this same wall, I pray that you would lean on your family and friends, who love you dearly, for assistance and support.
May you be encouraged knowing that you are on an an ongoing journey of improvement personally and professionally.
3) We’re spinning our wheels but accomplishing nothing.
“Yes, I can do that.”
“Yes, I will be there.”
“Yes, let’s plan on it.”
“Yes, yes, yes!”
How many times has the word, “Yes” come tumbling out of your mouth when what you really wanted to say was, “No”?
We often equate “busyness” with “productivity”, when in fact, they have quite the opposite effects.
When we say, “Yes” to too many unimportant – or even semi-important – commitments, we inevitably end up saying, “No” to the things which matter to us the most.
Key to simplifying our lives is the process of defining what really matters to us. What are the areas we want to focus the bulk of our attention and efforts?
I’m not talking about boiling it all down to ten items on the list – I’m going to go so far as to ask, “What are the TWO or THREE things that you can throw yourself into?”
This is simplification: choosing to trust that the world will keep spinning, even as we decide to let things go and loosen our grip on control.