How Naming Your Essentials Helps You Thrive

I’m listening to the book The Essentialist right now, by Greg McKeown, and it is resonating so much with core values that have been forming in me the last few years. In a world increasingly inundated with noise and and so many options, I’ve been craving intentional simplicity and a conscious choosing to live a life that lines up with who I want to be. Our culture has been fed the lie that we can “do anything” that in attempting to do it all, we end up accomplishing little to nothing. We’ve become these stressed out, exhausted, ineffective shells of beings.

I see it everywhere. I see it in my own life. It happens in subtle ways—getting caught up in checking my Instagram account impulsively to see how many likes I got, or in saying yes out of obligation to commitments I don’t feel excited about. It is so deceptively easy to be driven by people pleasing or “shoulds”, but whenever I look up, and pause long enough to consider the why behind my actions, I feel the weight of the clutter these choices has caused. I feel frustrated by the sense that I’m not gaining traction in different areas in my life, or that I’m “making a millimeter of progress in a million directions.”

Contrast that with essentialism:

“The way of the Essentialist means living by design, not by default. Instead of making choices reactively, the Essentialist deliberately distinguishes the vital few from the trivial many, eliminates the nonessentials, and then removes obstacles so the essential things have clear, smooth passage. In other words, Essentialism is a disciplined, systematic approach for determining where our highest point of contribution lies, then making execution of those things almost effortless.”

I think my spirit jumped up and down and clapped its hands inside of me upon hearing Greg’s steady British voice narrate this sentiment on my Audible app. Yes!!!! This is what I want! I’m realizing that in order to “live by design” it is so important to determine what it is specifically that I want to mark my “one wild and precious life.” This isn’t a new and radical thought by any means, but this book has helped me remember how important it is to be very clear and specific with who I am, where I’m headed, and what it is that is truly a priority for me. (The very word “priority” implies singularity, that which is “prior” to all else. It’s only in the last few centuries that we have pluralized that word. But when you think about it,  it’s absurd to have five “priorities.” Giving lip service to a myriad of “top priorities” is not only silly, but it is setting you up for exhaustion, frustration, and failure.)

It’s going to be a hard habit to break, I’m realizing. Letting go of the myth that multitasking is an effective and responsible choice. To wean myself off of my addiction to the approval I get by saying yes to anyone and everyone’s requests, not to mention my dependence on the feeling of “being productive.” But in the times where I have stepped into the way of the essentialist, chosen simplicity and a healthy rhythm over trying to fit it all in, I’m much more joyful, much more myself, much more able to be fully present.

I’ve been drawn to simplicity for several years, and most recently, I’ve been dipping my toes into minimalism, but I like this approach of being an “essentialist.” It means starting with getting down to one’s essence, or “the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something, especially something abstract, that determines its character” as Merriam Webster puts it. 

  • What is it that makes me come alive?
  • What characteristics define the truest parts of me?
  • What do I find at the intersection of my deep inspiration, my natural talent, and my world’s needs?
  • What choices do I need to make now that I will be deeply grateful for when I’m 70?

It has been immeasurably helpful for me to sit with these questions, in stretches of uninterrupted solitude, and answer these questions, not with vague generalities, but with specific, true, and clear answers that serve almost as a mission statement for the Corporation of Allie.

I feel most alive when I am on adventures, when I am genuinely connecting with people in good, thought provoking and life giving conversation, and when I am in the flow of creating beautiful things. At the core, I am someone that craves authenticity and to live wholehearted in all areas of my life. I deeply believe that these pursuits happen in the midst of and because of loving friendship and deepening trust with The Creator, my Redeemer, and the mysterious Holy Spirit. I have been feeling the invitation to enter into a lifestyle where I can create (both in writing and in art-making) and share that with people who are also in the midst of transition and longing for wholeheartedness as well. I want to live a life that doesn’t just contemplate these things, or talk about pursuing joy and wholeheartedness, but a life that lines up with these claims.

Part of living a life as an “essentialist” is being continually reminded of what makes up my essentials. A creative exercise that I’ve been doing this week has been to work on painting a visual representation of that which makes up the core of my me-ish-ness—my “Allie Essentials” if you will.



If you were to be an alchemist of your own being, what core elements would make up your essence? Does that stand in contrast to what makes up the reality of your day to day life? (If I did an accurate snapshot of the essentials that actually take up the most of my time, I guess I’d have to have included my smart phone, Netflix, and Target runs into my illustrations…) Naming the things in our lives that bring us joy, that call us deeper into who we are helps clarify and more easily identify the things, habits, or distractions that get in the way of our essentials.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetI have this quote from a Walt Whitman poem taped to my nightstand: “Dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem.” I’ve always thought of that as advice more so for dealing with toxic internal thought patterns that I have a tendency to hold on to, but I’m seeing this beautiful advice in a fresh light today. Part of pursuing the discipline of “less, but better” is to dismiss anything that doesn’t align with the flourishing of your soul. Granted, there are always tradeoffs, but there is such a rich joy to be found in the pain of giving something up or saying no when we realize what it is that we are freeing ourselves up to say yes to.

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