The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 7: Essentialism

I recently watched a talk given by Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, to employees at Google. I’d been hearing about this book for weeks and it was already on the “Books to Buy” list I have saved into the Notes app of my iPhone, so I paid close attention to the ideas he shared.

In the talk, McKeown asks, “How do you build a habit or routine that supports the things that are the most essential, so that it becomes the default position, even when we’re not aggressively trying to pursue it?”

I’ve been thinking about this, and reading more about McKeown’s book and its premise over the last few days. I gather he’s talking mostly about our work lives, and some reviews I’ve read of the book over on Amazon suggest that that is, in fact, the case.

So for the purposes of this blog post, let’s assume we’re not talking about the really big things that we all understand to be essential. Things like good health, love, meaningful relationships with family and friends, and so on.

As artists, creators and writers, we may feel that our creative work is the most essential thing in our day-to-day lives, the thing that gives our lives meaning and purpose. But do the schedules we set for ourselves reflect that?

McKeown says, “We need to design our lives deliberately, or they will end up being designed for us by people that aren’t as invested as us in achieving the essential mission of our lives.”

This is one of the reasons I left my corporate writing gig at a medical center in February of this year. While I enjoyed the work I did and the colleagues I worked with, I knew it wasn’t what I was “meant” to be doing, not even as a day-to-day work to pay the bills gig. But pay the bills it did, so obviously, I couldn’t up and quit.

Although I was running my copywriting business at the same time, by necessity it remained a side hustle, and I wanted to make it my full-time thing. But I knew that as long as I stayed at the corporate gig, I would never fully develop my own business; instead, my work life would be designed for me by default by people who weren’t invested in helping me achieve “the essential mission of my life.” They were working on their mission, and it’s a good one, but it wasn’t mine.

This isn’t to say that my “mission” per se is running a successful copywriting business, but it’s one element of my plan for world domination, bah ha ha.

But seriously, folks, the copywriting business allows me to do other things that are a part of my mission, such as more writing in general, and writing of a different kind – essays, narrative non-fiction, memoir, etc. – and to submit that work for publication.

I don’t have the essentialism thing licked by a long shot – just take a look at my daily to-do list and you’ll see what I mean – but when I think back to leaving the reliable corporate gig for the peaks and valleys of doing my own thing, business-wise, I see that I was indeed making a choice to pursue the things that are most essential to my creative mission.

And that is a darn good feeling, especially when I think of all the terror and self-doubt I experienced right after leaving the corporate gig.

McKeown tells us that living a life “built around the voice inside instead of the noise outside” is the key to being happier and more fulfilled, and I genuinely feel like I’m getting closer to that ideal every day.

Because for me, as scary and uncertain as it was to leave something solid and reliable that paid the bills and then some to go out on my own, with all its potential risks and pitfalls, the payoff has been well worth it.

I believe that when we choose the thing that makes us happiest, even when we haven’t arranged for a safety net to catch us if it doesn’t work out {raises hand}, it will eventually pay off.

And your creative mission deserves at least that much respect.

Read more about Greg McKeown and Essentialism here.