One of the most unexpected skills I built when practising simplicity is the capacity to define, for myself, what’s essential and what’s not. It makes sense, when you think about it. After all, getting rid of clutter to leave space and energy for the essential is the core of minimalism.
I suppose the unexpected part comes to what one can do with such skill. Defining what’s essential isn’t only about which tops or dresses to keep or recycle. After years of curating first my space, then my time and thoughts, I found myself questioning social commitments, toxic relationships, skills I wanted to learn, and even what kind of life I wanted to live.
Who am I really, and what life do I want to lead? Not what society says I should do, but what is essential to me?
The career shift
There is no one answer fits all to this type of question, contrary to what social norms would like us to believe. As far as I am concerned, making tons of money isn’t essential to me. It isn’t worth burning out for, or sacrificing my own values for.
Of course, like anybody else, I do need money to pay for rent, food and what not. But I do not need to accumulate more than what’s essential to live.
Why does this distinction matter? Because it was the first straw of a bigger career simplification, so to speak.
Why do we work?
If the goal isn’t to make as much money as possible, then do I need to climb the corporate ladder? Do I even need to be in a corporate environment in the first place? What other options do I have to make enough money to live? How much is enough, by the way?
This line of questioning got me down a rabbit hole, just like when you start sorting your closet and end up donating most of your possessions.
The core question was : if my goal isn’t to make a lot of money, then what is it? What do I want to accomplish in my life? What skills do I want to learn and use? What value do I want to bring to other people?
If I could find that purpose, then I could ask myself : OK, now how do I make it happen while earning enough money for life expenses?
That’s how my career shift started.
The permission to make art
Questioning life choices is a bit like opening Pandora’s box: once you start doubting, there is no coming back to the cubicle. At least, that’s what happened to me.
It took a few months to admit it to myself, but when asked the “why” of my life, what do I want to accomplish, soon, the answer came clearly : I want to make art. I want to write stories and draw things and make stuff. I’m a maker, really.
But what about the “real job”?
Turns out, giving myself permission to question my previous life choices was just the beginning of the “permission issue”. Depending on what your essential is, perhaps permission won’t be a problem to you.
Art is another matter though. It isn’t a “real job”. It doesn’t “make money”. It isn’t “useful”. The first reaction I got when I said I wanted to be a writer was “Good, you’ll know what to do on week-ends now. But what about finding a real job?”
Then, there is the other issue. The “I am 28 years old end never finished a novel in my life. How dare I call myself a writer?”
The permission to be who you are
Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert and her book Big Magic, I understood one thing: I don’t need anybody’s permission to be who I choose.
Just like I didn’t need anyone’s permission to declutter my home and change my consumption habits, I don’t need anyone’s permission to start making art.
Whatever your essential is, whatever it is you want to accomplish, create and give in your life, whether it is through career, family or otherwise, you don’t need anyone’s permission to pursue it.
Nobody’s but your own.
I think that is another skill simplicity taught me: the capacity to question the social norm, think differently and pursue what matters to me.
How about you? Do you practice simplicity? How did learning to figure out what’s essential to you impact the other parts of your life?