So regular readers may recall my A Daily Stoic Highlight from October 7th 2021
When we had the great Matthew McConaughey on the Daily Stoic podcast a little while back, he told us the story of how he found that balance for himself. At one point a few years ago, McConaughey realized he was doing too much—he had a production company, a music label, a foundation, his acting career, his family. The problem wasn’t that he couldn’t juggle it all. He could. The problem was, he said, “I was making B’s in five things. I wanna make A’s in three things.” So he called his lawyer and shut down the production company and the music label. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, and he had to carefully unwind the businesses to be fair to the people who’d been working hard on them, but it was the right call for his family. The incredible work he’s done as an actor since—and now his million-copy bestselling book Greenlights—is a testament to that.
As Marcus Aurelius said, when you eliminate the inessential, you get the double benefit of doing the essential stuff better. Which is why we all need to do the following exercise regularly:
- Make a list of all the things you’re trying to juggle.
2. Pare it down to just a few.
3. Commit to making A’s in those few things, instead of B’s and C’s in a lot of things.
4. Decommit from what you never should have committed to in the first place.
5. Dedicate yourself to what’s actually essential.
Those five steps are a pathway to true balance and success.
Yes, I just copied and pasted a previous post.
So let me get my copy and pasting skills sharpened because I have another from a Daily Stoic email from October 16th 2020
Most of us internalize the wrong lesson. We think success = busy. We think that being busy is a sign of a good leader, an important person.
Of course, this is not true. A full calendar is the sign of someone who agrees to a lot of things, no more, no less. Which is why the philosopher within us needs to always remember that the goal of life is not to do as much as possible, but to do what matters. Marcus Aurelius struggled with this as you struggle. He had to constantly review his commitments and his impulses and ask, “Is this essential?” “Is _________ really what I am trading my life for?” “Am I afraid of death because I don’t want to not be able to do _________ anymore?”
Being busy is not success. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. Autonomy. White space. The ability to be deliberate, to choose your shots—that’s success. Stillness, that’s where happiness and insight and truth comes from. So make room for it. Prioritize it. Fight for it.
Okay, so now you just copied someone else’s work rather than your own. Do you have anything new to say?
Okay, fine. Your challenge today is to make the same hard decision McConaughey made. Pick your top 3 priorities. Pick the three things you want to make A’s in this year and then pick the things you’re going to drop.
This task seems easy on its face, but in reality, it has a lot of nuances that are not readily apparent. First of all, defining things to begin with. Obviously mowing the lawn is not something I want to make an A in this year. It is not a focus. But I cannot fire my lawn. I could hire it out to be done and if I was Matthew McConaughey with Matthew McConaughey’s money, that would be an easy decision. I am not. Plus, I already have the mower, could use the fresh air and exercise, and since it is an electric mower, I can enjoy music or a podcast while I mow.
So mowing the lawn is an obvious choice, but I use it to illustrate a point. Just because something is not a priority doesn’t mean it is not a chore or task that still needs your focus and still needs to be done. So let me use then a much harder example. My employment. I theoretically need to stay employed. (I have enough money to last at least a few years without employment, but the lack of health insurance is a fly in that FIRE ointment.). My current employment is not a priority. Finding a replacement career is also not currently making the cut. So I have forty to fifty hours a week dedicated to something that is not within the bounds of the challenge.
Is it a lifetime goal or a task?
So I am currently decluttering. A process I began in earnest after my wife passed 11 months ago. I recently finished my own clothes and I am currently working on my comic book collection which I am planning to eBay about 95% of. (For some reason this task has prompted me to buy more comics to sell because apparently I am very unclear on how decluttering and saving money works). So this is a big task that may take me a year to complete. (Esp. if I keep buying more). But is it a goal I want to make an A in this year? That is a more significant question.
I am in a few new friendships since my wife passed and I am interested in maybe seeking to move to a more relationship level. Is this a goal that I focus on or is this something like work and the lawn that is simply part of my life? And if I leave it part of my life without focusing on it, am I going to have enough time for empty spaces?
Okay, New Rules.
The clarity I am seeking (or, in this case, imposing) is that the focus is only for this year. This relieves the burden of the what do you want to do with your life and gives me an escape from some things I would like to change, but it is not necessarily the best timing right now. Now I am also giving myself some flexibility in case things change. (I lose my job, a “friend” gets pregnant, my house burns down, I get cancer)… nothing more cheerful than a list of things that could happen from a Stoic. Premeditatio malorum indeed.
So the three things that make the cut are…. drum roll.
- Get/stay in good health.
- Decluttter my enviroment
- Daily meditations on my blog
Synopsis of goals
So the comic project makes the list under the Declutter umbrella. (I toyed with putting the declutter and health in one groupoid but in reality that goes against both the intent and the result of the task). Now again, the lawn is still getting mowed, I am still going to work and I still have bongos with Brooklyn tomorrow. (That is not an euphuism. I am bringing my bongos. Maybe I am more like Mathew McConaghy than I thought.).
The tasks I am focusing on are pretty clear cut. The decluttering is self explanatory with the comics project and other things I am sure I need to let go of. I am giving myself eleven months to complete the task. Part of my decluttering task is to also create a positive cash flow for fiscal 2022 (Looking at my eBay purchases this week, I am not off to a good start)
I set a goal weight of 185 for this year. I also have not been to a doctor or dentist since well before the pandemic started. I need to have tests done, teeth fixed and a clean bill of health overall. I feel okay. (I am not feeling sickly) but I know this is a task which I have procrastinated on for years and with my weight loss momentum I can really get myself in good shape.
Doing a daily Stoic blog is the third and most surprising priority. It is part of my mental health and helps me practice my ability to put thoughts and words on paper.
What did not make the cut?
Finding new employment did not make the cut. With the current Great Resignation, this may be quite foolish as the iron is hot, so to speak. Finishing my second book did not make the cut either (Perhaps I need to change my banner). Pursuing relationships also did not make the cut.
I am not happy with any of the three things being cut. Part of me feels all three are important tasks I ought to complete. In fact, the adult side of me suggests that they are more important than decluttering and blogging. There is a bit of Fomo involved here, especially with the employment concern. There is also a bit of current circumstances. Both the book and relationship status are tied to my friendship with Brooklyn, which is under a lot of strain of late. We are both looking to mend fences tomorrow and if that happens, what happens to my priorities? Will I be strong enough to stick to the list I have above?
In Conclusion: The saving grace of the decluttering task is the balancing of the books. (Clearing out and selling comics is more of a bonus). Part of the reason I am hesitant to pursue relationships his year is I do want to get my health and finances on an even keel. I want to feel comfortable with both. As for my mental state, the daily journaling will certainly help with such matters. So my focus is on self improvement. Fiscal, mental and physical health. Of course, as I allude to above, circumstances will change and things that are out of my control are well… out of my control. This does not always mean bad things. Good fortune can disturb a plan as easily as bad luck. This is a line on the map. An indication of where I plan to navigate the boat. I will still have a lookout in the crow’s nest, keeping an eye open for treasure or icebergs.