On December 20, 2011 I received word that I had achieved my goal of becoming a licensed professional engineer. For nearly 10 straight years I had been focused on the steps that would lead to this achievement.
Having finally attained it I felt that a world of possibilities had suddenly opened up to me. At first this felt great, but I soon began to struggle with no longer having a narrowly defined set of goals.
As more time passed and my interests expanded I found myself struggling with more and more options.
Should I stay in my current industry or try another industry? Stay in engineering or look into other fields? Should I try my hand at consulting? Do I want to stay in the US or work abroad?
And on and on the options went.
I read, I studied, and I weighed the various possibilities but without any focus. The more options I considered the more confused and paralyzed I became. I began investigating and investing in all kinds of materials to try to find answers.
These included courses on topics as diverse as investing in stock options, learning how to talk more comfortably with others and buying goods from China and reselling them online.
I have literally spent thousands of dollars and many hundreds of hours on these types of activities. Yet despite that tremendous investment of time and resources I still struggled to feel I was making any kind of meaningful progress in life.
It took me several years to finally come to grips with the fact that my lack of progress had nothing to do with the quality of information I was finding and all about my own failure to act.
I eventually realized that one of the main reasons for my failure to progress was a lack of focus.
The Way of the Essentialist
One of my favorite books is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.
At the very beginning of his book Greg describes Essentialism this way:
“The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. It doesn’t mean occasionally giving a nod to the principle. It means pursuing it in a disciplined way….
“It is about pausing constantly to ask, ‘Am I investing in the right activities?’ There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital. The way of the Essentialist involves learning to tell the difference – learning to filter through all those options and selecting only those that are truly essential.”
Accomplishing More by Doing Less
At the beginning of this year I decided that 2016 was going to be the year that I would start making break through progress.
In the spirit of the Essentialist I set just 3 goals for myself to accomplish in 2016 so that I could give an appropriate amount of focused attention to each.
Goal 1: Lose 18 pounds
Goal 2: Start a blog
Goal 3: Buy our first rental property
While these goals might seem trivial to many people, each of them would require me to overcome fear and self doubt. I knew each one would make a huge difference towards becoming who I wanted to be.
So far this year has been going pretty well. I’ve lost 13 pounds and published a blog regularly for nearly 7 months.
Learning to Focus…AGAIN
Starting in about mid-June I began focusing a lot of my free time on learning about real estate investing to accomplish my third goal.
I watched a number of webinars, reread The ABC’s of Real Estate Investing, researched places we might want to own property and talked with other investors about their strategies for evaluating and purchasing property.
By the end of August I felt like I was making good progress.
Then I was presented with an opportunity for learning another investing technique.
I subscribed to a newsletter that focused on recommendations for some stock market investing strategies that I found extremely interesting. The author’s values and views aligned very well with my own and it seemed like a great opportunity to strengthen our stock portfolio
So I went ahead and subscribed.
Distracted from the Essential
Over the next 4 weeks I spent many hours studying previous issues of the newsletter to better understand the author’s strategies. However, I quickly discovered that we don’t currently have a large enough portfolio to make those particular strategies successful.
Although the math didn’t seem to work out I really wanted to implement the strategy and so I spent several nights trying to find a way to make it work for us.
The problem was for those four weeks I was NOT making any progress towards the goal that I had predetermined to be an essential step not only in achieving financial freedom but also in my personal growth.
So last weekend I had to step back and ask myself the question Greg McKeown posed above: “Am I investing in the right activities.”
In pondering that question I realized that while emotionally I really wanted to make this new stock strategy work for me, logically real estate made more sense for us right now.
The right decision was obvious…I could only do one of these things well and I needed to pick the one that was going to provide the most bang for our bucks.
Accordingly, I cancelled my trial subscription to the stock picking newsletter and returned to my real estate studies.
Upon making the decision and acting on it, I immediately felt a huge sense of relief.
I realized that by allowing myself to get distracted (AGAIN!!!) I had lost a month of precious time when I should have been learning the things that would help me to be successful in achieving my planned goal.
I had allowed myself to get distracted by something good when I had already decided months before what was essential.
While the stock investments might have allowed me to make progress towards financial freedom, the real estate investments will provide both financial benefits as well as personal growth which is why I’d opted for them in the first place.
Focusing on the Essential
Some lessons in life have to be learned over, and over, and over again before they finally sink in.
For me, one of those lessons is that by giving up a lot of good things to focus on those few things that I have decided are essential, I will ultimately make much more consistent and rapid progress towards having a Place to Stand and building a Lever to make my mark on the world.
After this experience last weekend I find myself examining my life to figure out what other things I’m doing that are good but not essential.
Eliminating those things that are merely good is key to having the bandwidth to accomplish those few things that will make an enormous difference in your life.
I would highly encourage you to examine your own daily activities and ask yourself which things are consuming your time, energy and resources without moving you any closer to your essential goals.
While it can be tough to let these things go, as I’ve learned once again, doing less really is the key to accomplishing (and becoming) more.