Less, Not More

Less, Not More
Photo by David Clode / Unsplash
"Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer's job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible... No matter how good you are, no matter how much experience you have, it's probably impossible to get the entire fossil out of the ground without a few breaks and losses. To get even most of it, the shovel must give way to more delicate tools: airhose, palm-pick, perhaps even a toothbrush."
Stephen King, On Writing
"Therefore, ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners. (I'm talking about all ideas here–artistic, scientific, industrial, commercial, ethical, religious, political.) When an idea this it has found somebody–say, you–who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. This is likely because you're consumed by your own dramas, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren't receptive to inspiration... But sometimes–rarely, but magnificently–there comes a day when you're open and relaxed enough to actually receive something. Your defenses might slacken and your anxieties might ease, and then magic can slip through."
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Two very different writers – Stephen King wrote The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three and Elizabeth Gilbert wrote Eat, Pray, Love – with the same view of how ideas exist in the world. It's not a matter of forcing something's creation. It already exists... if we're open to bringing it into being.

I was at my friend's Justin Castelli's Keep Pursuing series last week. During the Q&A, we were discussing how the education system works to, intentionally or not, smother kids' natural creativity. Schools have a rigid curriculum and teach to the test. Districts remove phys ed, art, and shop class in favor of Common Core.

Yet kids are perfectly content with a box of markers and an empty Amazon box. Creativity is just there, and it's natural and one of the most beautiful things to see. They are happy to invent a new game, share it with others, and play that game for the rest of the day. The same DNA that invented fire, the wheel, and beer is in our kids – we need to give them the time, space, and freedom to extract their own fossils and receive their own ideas. No screens required.

And that doesn't apply only to kids. In many cases, simple beats complex. As we discussed in the Q&A with Justin, try different things and be open to discovering what clicks. Your authentic self is out there. Use your whole range of tools to extract it.

Your ideal career is out there. Maybe you dread conferences and networking events and would rather stay at the office to make widgets. Or you feel pressure to add vanity certifications after your name like everyone else. Instead, strip away the image of needing to be the networker with the alphabet soup on your business card and instead explore how to be the best widget maker you can.

Your ideal marriage already exists. Instead of adding a marriage counselor or another marriage book, consider going for a walk together once a week or scheduling a monthly date night to just... talk. Your ideal marriage may find you.

Friendships evolve over time. No matter how hard we try, some friendships run their course. Rather than fighting to keep an old friendship alive, it may be time to let that friendship go to make room for new, more fulfilling ones.

Restaurants try to add complexity, but in many cases, nothing tastes better than fresh ingredients thoughtfully prepared. No need to add truffle oil to fries or smoke to an old fashioned.

This time of year, every day could have some holiday event on the schedule. It may be worth paring down to instead spend time with those closest to you and soak up the little moments. A less stressful December is out there if we allow ourselves to be open to it.

Maybe it's an American (or more broadly, Western) phenomenon to add more. Bigger cars and houses, more stuff, the newest phone, more degrees and accolades and accomplishments. More more more. We spend so much time adding more in an effort to solve problems.

But we may find our fossils more intact when we simplify, and our best ideas may find us when we open ourselves up to them.