Finding Inspiration in Essentialism

Given my mobility limitations, I’ve spent a good deal of time on the couch.  When I haven’t been watching junk tv, I’ve been reading.  I am addicted to a series by Darynda Jones.  I love the books because I find myself laughing out loud at the witticisms of the protagonist. Jones’ series, however, is little more than brain candy; it’s fun without a lot of substance.  I decided my brain needed a beefier workout than my usual paranormal romantic fluff.  I went to all of this effort to keep my body healthy, I shouldn’t let my brain slide.  I turned to a category of literature that interests me in a genre I usually avoid: nonfiction.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

finding the essential in life

Free time means lots of self-reflection.  Let’s examine my situation.  I found out I had a life-threatening genetic condition May of 2016, and I faced this knowledge with the understanding of what could happen to me if I did nothing with it.  Having faced my mother’s cancer, I had the prior knowledge that doing nothing wasn’t an option.  I faced multiple surgeries this fall, any of which could have been disastrous.  I pushed through each one and its set of challenges.  Each of these experiences meant facing my mortality on a level in which no one should have to face before a ripe old age.  Facing mortality irrevocably leads to an examination of life’s priorities.

When I stumbled on a reference McKeown’s book, Essentialism (2014) in one of the blogs I read, I couldn’t help but check to see if it was in the possession for my local library.  I got lucky.  I picked up the book before this last surgery, knowing I would have enough time on my hands to comb through it.  What I didn’t realize, was that I would be enthralled by McKeown’s message.

try not to worry

I deal with anxiety but made the effort this year to stop taking medication and instead focus on other techniques for curbing my anxiousness: blogging, exercise, and meditation.  McKeown writes that, “every second spent worrying about a past or future moment distracts us from what is important in the here and now” (p. 217).  How many times this fall did I worry unnecessarily or let my worry control my daily experience?  I’ve lost so many hours deep in worry.  Instead, I need to remember to focus on the essential when nervousness takes  hold.

what is essential?

An essentialist maintains focus on a given priority and recognizes that we can’t do it all.  For the past several months, my priority has been my health.  McKeown indicates that at any given time we can focus on only one given priority (p 16).  Now that I’m nearing the end of my recovery, I have the opportunity to reflect on more than just getting better and to evaluate how my actions going forward will be indicative of my values.

McKeown coins the phrase “less but better” (p. 5).  So, the question we need to ask ourselves, moving forward, is in what is important? My list looks like this:

my essentials
Finding the Essential

Given that I can only focus on one priority at a time, I need to be kind to myself and realize there is no such thing as perfect; being an essentialist takes work.  But, I can come back to this list regularly and ask myself  whether I am still actively pursuing these goals through my daily actions.

If you have correctly identified what really matters, if you invest your time and energy in it, then it is difficult to regret the choices you make.  You become proud of the life you have chosen to live. (p 287)


I am inspired to invest time and energy into my list.  I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to take a long timeout and reflect on my goals and I suggest you use your recovery to do the same.  What do you want out of life going forward?  You’re in the unique position that you  must take the time to heal your body, so use this opportunity to care for your spirit.  If you focus on what you see as essential, you’ll find a life that really matters and that is worthy of all the work.

McKeown, Greg. (2014). Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. New York: Crown Business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *