Category Archives: Choice

Values Are The Key to Making Tough Choices

101217_ValuesBy John Rex, former CFO of Microsoft North America, executive coach, and friend to Simple Intentions  

My dad wore his values like a badge of honor. Raised as the son of U.S. diplomats stationed throughout Latin America and North Africa in the 1940s and 50s, he especially cherished the value of adventure. When I was a kid, he would often say, “Just call me Bwana” – a nod to Bob Hope’s 1963 farce film by the same title – then lead our family off on some daredevil backcountry excursion across the wild deserts of the American West. His impish grin would make us kids roll our eyes, but in the end, we always loved exploring the wondrous natural playgrounds he showed us, particularly the deserts of Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. 

Fast forward twenty-five years. February 2003 found my siblings and me embarking on an off-road expedition from Mesquite, Nevada to the Grand Canyon’s north rim, with Dad leading the way. Just like the old days. A couple of hours into our journey, a freak desert storm dumped about six inches of snow on us as we followed Lime Kiln Canyon into the rugged hills east of Mesquite. The dirt road we were climbing soon became treacherously slick, so we stopped to take stock of the situation. The sun was fast heading to the horizon, and snow was still falling hard.  

The great Bwana consulted the map, presumably to chart a detour around the snow-laden hills. It turned out that our navigator was not exactly sure which road we were now on (we don’t call this “getting lost” in our family), so the map was not too helpful. To make matters trickier, at this point it was revealed that planning our route had not been done with precision. I’m not naming names, but some adventurous spirit had figured that we would “make our way” across the upper left corner of Arizona by generally following dirt roads in a northeasterly direction. As a result, it wasn’t clear when or if we would arrive at the first day’s waypoint, Colorado City. 

Faced with unknown hours of snow travel and the real possibility of spending a frigid night in the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, our little band turned back toward Mesquite’s lower elevation, where there was no snow, only cold rain. We followed our tracks in reverse and a few hours later, none the worse for the experience, we rolled into Mesquite, where we quickly warmed up with some hot chocolate. 

It doesn’t take an expert navigator to know that plotting and following a course is key to reaching a given destination. By the same token, if you don’t know where you want to go, it’s certain you won’t get there. As Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote two millennia ago, “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” 

In my work as an executive coach, I find that many of my clients figuratively navigate dangerous terrain all the time. In these situations, it’s good to remember that in the journey of life, our values serve as our compass. They are the criteria by which we make numerous decisions every day, both large and small. Our values inform everything from whether we return incorrect change to a sales clerk, to how to vote in elections, to how to treat loved ones and strangers, to how to behave in business dealings. Without clear and honored values, we are like the person who cannot read a map or who does not know where they want to go. 

When we hit the snow on our journey to the Grand Canyon, my dad could have stuck with the original plan and insisted we keep going. If his highest values had been persistence and achievement, we could have ended up struggling through the snow in the dark. But the values my dad honored the most were adventure and connection. We’d already had the adventure to come as far as we did. The best way for us to experience more connection now would be to turn back, sit in front of a warm fire drinking hot chocolate together, and talk about what fun we’d had. 

Somewhat surprisingly, a good number of my clients have never carefully identified, recorded, or internalized a personal set of values. When I run into this, one of the first pieces of work I do is help them gain clarity in this important part of their lives. Armed with their unique values, my clients can then make choices aligned with their most cherished beliefs, principles, and passions. This approach results in greater peace of mind, satisfaction, and confidence when they face both straightforward and complex decisions. 

If you haven’t already, I challenge you to define and memorialize your personal values. Here are three tips for how to do it: 

1) Think about a time in your life when you were “in the flow,” a time when the place, your actions, and your mindset harmonized almost effortlessly, producing a pinnacle experience. Try to remember the ingredients that were at play, including the people you were with. The elements that converged to create that magical moment can be vital clues to your values. 

2) Consider the causes that matter most to you. The organizations, activities, philosophies, books, places, and ideas that you are genuinely passionate about can be shiny signposts signaling your personal values. 

3) Reflect on your upbringing, your faith tradition, your formal and informal education, your heroes, role models, and mentors. Look for teachings and characteristics that you admire to this day. These too will uncover clues about the values you hold or want to hold.  

Once you have thoughtfully identified your values, record them. Something about writing them down in a notebook or typing them into a document makes them real, makes them a part of you. Share them with your loved ones and others you care about. Giving your values a voice is a powerful way of making them truly yours.  

It may sound simple, but when you are clear about your values, and you strive to honor them, you lay a solid foundation for quickly making choices that others around you, wide-eyed with fear or confusion, may consider too difficult, too fraught with the opinions of others, or too personally risky. You will confidently proceed in the knowledge that your choices are congruent with your dearest principles and beliefs – your unique values. They will give you the courage you need to make the most crucial decisions, some much more pivotal than whether to spend a cold night in a snowy desert with the great Bwana. 

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Establishing Boundaries and Priorities

glenn-carstens-peters-190592By Karen Starns 

Starns is a seasoned global brand and marketing leader who is poised to begin her next chapter. She has held senior positions at Pearson, Amazon and Microsoft and is a friend of Simple Intentions.  

The first time I read Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown was the Spring of 2014. At the time, I wasn’t ready for how it would eventually transform my outlook on priorities and contributions. The premise of being disciplined about where to invest energies and where to step away resonated, but I’d allowed my time to be swallowed up by other people’s needs and agendas for years. As a leader, family member and friend driven by accomplishment, I felt the need to do it all. This modus operandi had become so ingrained and rewarded, the reason for change wasn’t obvious enough. 

Several months later, I took on a new global job that required 50% travel – a good portion of it spent in London. This professional change spurred a complete reset of how I spent my time. The juggling that had been challenging became infeasible and I realized that if my in-person relationships with my husband and kids had to get packed into weekends and every other week, I was going to need a system to support me. Having less time at home was catalytic in helping me take that first critical step toward committing to the things that were most important to me and becoming aware that embracing other people’s expectations and drowning in to-do lists was taking me off track.  

With the premises of Essentialism as underpinning, developing a system that works for me has been a 2 ½ year process of discovery and fine-tuning. While having very little time flexibility, I’ve found more balance and internal peace than ever before by investing in the fewest number of important things. As I prepare for another career transition, I’m delighted to celebrate how full my life is. These are the steps I took: 

I first clarified my “non-negotiables.” This included creating a clear distinction between those things in life that were most important to me and separating those from everything else. My list was intentionally short: family and work. Deep relationships with my husband and kids, coupled with rewarding work that I love is where I make the highest contribution. Energy and time devoted to my non-negotiables come first. 

 I then examined “everything else.” This is a huge bucket and it probably goes without saying that all things in this category are not created equal. I’ve further segmented this into “to-dos,” “opportunities,” and “personal priorities.” 

There are a lot of “to-dos” in life and if we’re not careful, the tasks and errands on our lists can run us ragged and leave little time for anything else. I’m a list maker and have spent years measuring progress via scraps of paper and piles of note cards. Today, I embrace the realization that while there are must-do tasks, crossing things off a list every day does not move me toward my highest contribution. 

There are also “opportunities,” invitations, and possibilities. These are optional. They are not obligations and it important to remind yourself that you have a choice. Not wanting to disappoint someone else is not a good reason to say yes. If they are aligned with your priorities, make them priorities. If they are not, let them go – even if they are good opportunities. While I devote just a couple of sentences toward this topic, it is huge. Greg McKeown has a lot of provocative and useful commentary on this if you struggle with this like I do. 

The third category I created to sort through everything else has provided the most upside for me: “personal priorities.” The label itself has been incredibly empowering and the things I’ve put here have enriched my life. This category and what I’ve done with it has been the difference maker. 

Personal priorities are a mix of the aspirational “someday” things that rarely get attention and some really important things that are easy to let slip. Here’s my current list: 

  1. Side Project (I have some business ideas to cultivate) 
  2. Write (like this article, I want to write/publish more frequently) 
  3. Read (for pleasure, for knowledge, and to escape) 
  4. Board/Advisory Work (I’m on a non-profit board and mentor a woman leader who runs a social enterprise and a non-profit) 
  5. Learn Spanish (my mentee’s organization is based in Mexico and I’m using Duolingo every day to learn Spanish) 
  6. Marathon Training (I’m in the midst of a 20-week program training for the NY Marathon, this is a big mental and time commitment) 
  7. Career Planning (meetings, correspondence, and network engagement) 
  8. Time with Friends (an important thing that I’ve let slip) 

While eight personal priorities may seem like a lot, I am actively working on all of these. I’m using a reminder app that allows me to establish a prompt and track momentum for each priority. For example, I want to do 15 minutes of Duolingo every day and write 3 times a month. 

There are other things that I’m not doing because I have my two non-negotiables and I’ve also declared my eight personal priorities. This is not just ok. It is great! Having this level of clarity has been tremendously freeing. As Greg McKeown says in Essentialism, “Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not as an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” 

Being unapologetic about establishing non-negotiables and personal priorities has been a game changer. Now more than ever, I am confident in my ability handle curveballs that come my way and embrace new opportunities in life that are aligned with what’s most essential to me.  

 

 

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Creating Space

083117_CreateSpaceByLeAnn Elkins, Mindful Living Coach at Being is Doing and Friend of Simple Intentions 

We live in a world where a very common response to being asked, “How are things?” is “Oh, good, but I have been so busy!” Our lives are often FILLED from the moment we rise until we put our head on the pillow in the evening. In the business environment, we are rewarded for being busy and in fact, the busier the better as busy equals success (or so goes the story!). Our personal lives are also scheduled to the brim with activities and chores, making “busy” a common denominator in all aspects of life. 

Our busy lives contribute to how many of us often run on adrenalin, using it as the fuel that gets us through the day until the time comes when we actually crave the feeling that adrenalin causes. So, we find more and more ways to constantly get that “fix.” Some get their fix by filling up every moment of their day, while others may use intense cardio-filled exercise to get it, even a cup of coffee can provide the fix many of us feel we need to keep going. Because society respects “busy,” the media encourages “busy,” and the popularity of the “no pain/no gain philosophy,” we have learned to value “busy” ourselves. Many of us are living in a constant state of stress. Yes, adrenalin = stress!  

For some, this may be a new concept. Being constantly busy and filling up all of our time is actually causing our bodies to be flooded with stress hormones and operate in adrenalin mode, which can lead to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion.  

The good news is we all have a choice and we can choose to move from this state of adrenalin to a place of “space.” When we create space, we move towards a place where endorphins flood our systems and we experience ease, balance and vibrancy. What does creating space look like? It happens when we find ways to truly be more present as we approach the month, the week, the day and the moment. Creating space, while different for each and every one of us, can be as simple as: 

  • Taking a lunch break as well as mini-breaks throughout the day (close your eyes for a few moments and focus on your breath) 
  • Having a weekend with no or very few plans (and being okay with that) 
  • Eliminating or reducing caffeine 
  • Taking a mindful walk or a restorative yoga class (vs. an intense cardio activity) 
  • Doing nothing and not looking for ways to fill each moment 
  • Introducing rituals that support your well-being – whatever that means to you (baths, meditation, reading/writing, etc.) 
  • Being selective in accepting or hosting social engagements 
  • Slowly easing into sleep through a 30 minute “wind down”  
  • Walking/talking/BEING with family and friends 
  • Creating a no electronics policy at certain times during the day: 
    • Early morning 
    • Meals
    • Evenings after a certain hour 
  • Just slowing down (whatever that means to you) 

As Marianne Williamson mentions in Aging Miraculously, we need to go slower in order to go deeper. In slowing down and creating space we are not doing less – we are actually doing more as we allow ourselves the time and space to think and feel more deeply. 

When we create space, we give ourselves the gift of moving from a life of adrenalin to one of ease. What different choices will you make?

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Motivation

Lara Gates, Managing Editor, Simple Intentions081717_Motivation

I’m the type of girl who has on occasion actually added a job I just completed to my to do list – just to check it off. This is because I’m motivated by accomplishment. I don’t have to get recognition for doing the thing, although sometimes that’s nice. The satisfaction of completing an assignment is extremely gratifying for me. On the flip side, having unfinished items on my plate at work for days or weeks can zap my energy and motivation. Turning a sense of accomplishment into a motivator doesn’t always translate.

Some people are motivated by fear, some by pain (or the aversion to it), some by money. But those motivations don’t always live within our conscious mind. More likely they are background noise, causing us to take action without awareness. I’ve been turning over this idea recently of listening as a motivational tool. It goes like this: I can better motivate my workmates and myself if I first listen to their feedback, their objections and their needs.

This active listening falls into two categories. First, the actual data is valuable. Think like a reporter and fact-gather. Secondly, try to actually hear the words themselves, coupled with body language and tone to really understand what is being communicated. If a committee member says “challenge” or “issue” or “problem” in their report, they’re giving us a peek into their judgment of the situation. Listen to understand and then pause before giving motivation.

I worked with a magazine publisher a few years ago who was extremely gifted at making people feel heard. It was beautiful to watch her conduct an interview because the subject would open up in authentic and surprising ways – making for compelling storytelling. This tool of listening also served her incredibly well when it came to motivating a team of writers and designers. And it gave her a unique talent at selling ad space. By listening to clients and potential clients she was able to deliver exactly what would meet their needs in a way that hardly felt like sales at all. The key to her management style was listening, and it was incredibly motivating to each person in her circle of influence.

The same method can be used when being self-reflective. Listen to the inner dialogue when the “to do” item rises to the top of the heap. Is this a have-to-do or a want-to-do? And am I resisting the work? Am I looking forward to it? And perhaps most importantly, why? By first listening to the inner dialogue, I am able to motivate myself in the most effective way.

Here’s a real-life example. Breaking bad news is always a chore and can easily be bumped lower and lower on the to do list in procrastination. But when I pause and think about why I’m dreading it, I can best prepare to move ahead. Am I avoiding conflict with the receiver? Am I afraid the relationship will be changed or severed? Am I personally disappointed and I need time to process that first before sharing the news? Whatever the answers, by giving my inner voice a beat to process the situation, I can then muster the motivation I need to push ahead.

My favorite motivators are passion and reward. One passionate team member can have a contagious effect on the group — with big results. But if we are not listening to the tone or the word choice, we could miss out on a person’s passion, and consequently miss a key opportunity to motivate.

 

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What Craig the IT Guy Taught Me About Life, Death, and Work-Life Balance

By John Rex, President at Rex Executive Leadership and Friend of Simple Intentions

0800317_ITGuyVirtually all my clients say that they want improved work-life balance. Here are four tips from the WW work-life balance initiative I led at Microsoft.

It was awful to learn that Craig, from IT, had passed away from a heart attack while working late at the office. I didn’t know him very well, although over the past two years I had come to appreciate his ready willingness to help with my computer problems. Not being close to Craig, I debated attending the funeral service, but in the end, I decided to go. When my wife and I arrived, a colleague pulled me aside and anxiously asked, “Would you mind saying a few words about Craig?”, then added, “He considered you a dear friend.” Although I was a bit surprised by the request, I figured that several people were being asked to share their memories of Craig, so I said “sure” and began gathering my thoughts.

As it turned out, I was the main speaker at the service, followed by Craig’s thirty-something son. Only the two of us spoke to the small group of people in attendance. I don’t remember what I said about Craig, but I’ve never forgotten his son’s remarks: “I don’t really know my dad. He was never home. He gave his entire life to the company. I don’t know what else to say about him.” That was all he said, and then he sat down. As an extreme example of what can happen when someone overinvests in a single life priority, it was a profoundly sad moment to me.

Among the various important topics that my executive coaching clients bring to me, achieving work-life balance is almost always near the top. In fact, virtually all my clients say that they want improved work-life balance. I heard the same from people I worked with during my 20+ years as a CFO at Fortune 100 companies.

While serving as CFO of Microsoft North America, I led a global initiative to improve work-life balance for over 1,100 finance professionals. At the outset of this project, I read everything I could find on the topic; I also spent many hours interviewing work-life balance experts. Based on that research, our task force rolled out a worldwide training program that helped instill behaviors which ultimately improved work-life balance satisfaction by double digits. Following are the highlights I gleaned from the research, along with the associated tips we taught finance professionals.

Highlight #1: Work-life balance is a misleading term. It implies that work and life are two separate things and that one increases only at the expense of the other. The truth is, work is a subset of life’s activities and only one of the various important elements that compose a life.

Tip: Shifting your mindset to think of work as one of the several essential elements of an integrated life, rather than something separate from your “real” life, is a vital step toward finding satisfaction with the whole. To help shift your mindset, cut out the term work-life balance from your vocabulary and replace it simply with life balance.

Highlight #2: Because our individual values define what matters most to us, apportioning time to activities that are congruent with our values is key to living a balanced and satisfying life. Since each person’s values are unique to them, no two individuals’ criteria for prioritizing time will be the same.

Tip: Know your values so you can thoughtfully prioritize the activities of your unique life. Explore and record your values. A close friend, partner, or coach can help you with this.

Highlight #3: Given that most vocations involve dependencies upon others, sharing our boundaries for work can significantly reduce confusion and false expectations, which in turn lessens the pressure to extend work beyond the outer limits of our values.

Tip: Meet with your boss(es), peers, and subordinates and discuss your mutual aspirations for life balance. Share important personal routines (“I drop my kids off at school each morning.”), communication preferences (“For urgent matters, text or instant message me.”), boundaries (“Sundays are my faith and family days.”), and so on. Ask for each other’s support. Memorialize your agreement via email or an informal “contract” or team charter.

Highlight #4: When it comes to juggling professional and other tasks on a given day, I have found that most people fall into two groups – those who compartmentalize tasks and those who mix them. Compartmentalizers prefer keeping work in one bucket and other activities in another. When they are at the office, they avoid mixing non-professional activities with the workday. When they go home, they avoid taking job-related work with them. By contrast, mixers prefer – and sometimes need – to alternate professional and personal activities throughout the day, both at the office and away. From my observation, neither of these styles is better than the other; they’re just different.

Tip: Determine whether you compartmentalize or mix tasks, be OK with your style, and communicate it to those you work with (see Tip #3 above). A close friend, partner, or coach can help you identify your style.

In addition to the tips I have shared, many of my executive coaching clients ask about techniques for better managing their time. Two valuable resources for improving productivity, both on and off the job, are David Allen’s book Getting Things Done and the website lifehacker.com.

If I learned one lesson from Craig the IT Guy, it was that the priorities we choose in life matter – and not just to ourselves but those around us. As I work with my executive clients, I continually strive to keep their particular values at the forefront of our coaching agenda. If I can help them more thoughtfully make choices aligned with their values, my hope is that someday they will look back on their life’s journey with a sense of satisfaction and wonder as they consider a life lived with integrity and purpose.

Note: Some identifying details in this article have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

 

[This article was originally posted on Rex Executive Leadership]

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Mindful Sales Journey

By Jordan WeinandFounder of Glowsoul and Friend of Simple Intentions

jeremy-beadle-129624The life of a salesperson can be a stomach pit of a rollercoaster or a Mai Tai sipping Fiji vacation. We live month to month, quarter to quarter and next thing you know, a year is up and you are examined on your sales performance. Where did that time go? What did you do in between and maybe more importantly, did you stop to reflect?

I drive eight hours to North Dakota at least twice a year. Upon putting my car into drive and then pressing down on the gas, I know my end goal. It’s to see that last mile stretch of dirt road to my aunt and uncle’s canola spread farmland.

The next eight hours, however, are a bit of a blur and unpredictable. Will I stop four or five times? Eat McDonalds or Subway and should I monitor my mileage to see what this car is really capable of? It’s a full eight-hour journey.

My aunt would always ask, “how was the trip?” Until I started being mindful, I always said, “it was fine.” But truly, it was a pandemonium-stricken traffic jam for two hours. Then it became a game of, “find the fry I dropped on the floor,” and ended with, “how I can invest in all this land,” for the next five hours. When I’m mindful, the trip was fun and I was afforded some close encounter family time!

These details in between the end goal make our total experience. Traveling on vacation or selling a couple million-dollar software deal, there’s a whole lot goin on in the middle.

In sales, it’s our daily effort from organizing customized qualification questions to ripping through 50 cold calls in order to talk to one person who’s interested in discussing election results. Being present in your sales journey makes all the difference. Prospects notice too.

For instance, when you’re at the stage of taking notes and learning what your prospect is experiencing, give these two ideas a shot.

Mindfully gather the issue

Write the proper note down and ask a few questions around it. Typically, that first issue is immediate pain, but a few questions after will give you the cascading effect. If you understand them as a whole, the prospect now knows you care. Not to mention, your particular thought to each question helps your overall understanding so you can prescribe confidently.

Feel it like it’s yours

Part of being mindful in this qualification process requires you to take a bite of the “pain pie.” We all like to be validated. We all want to be heard, check Facebook for that proof. When the prospect gives you an issue, feel it. Believe it with them. Know it DOES suck and if you can help in this process, wow, what an accomplishment we’d experience.

These two ideas occur more regularly than signing final contracts. This is the journey we’re on every sales cycle before we ever see our commission checks fatten. How fun! We’ll win some and lose more, but knowing it’s an opportunity to talk with someone who’s asking for help is enough to make me smile. Being mindful in each sales opportunity will allow you to help more people and if not, you’ll have detailed stories for happy hour. Remember the journey!

 

[Note: This article originally posted on Glowsoul]

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Rethinking the Good Life

By Joanna Fuller, Friend of Simple Intentions

Photo by Alex Holyoake via Unsplash

In 1932, at perhaps the most devastating point of the Great Depression, Helen and Scott Nearing moved from New York City to a run-down maple sugar farm in rural Vermont. No longer able to make a living in the ‘wage economy,’ they set out to subsist on the land—building a simple home from stones found on the property, growing their own food, and bartering for necessities they couldn’t produce themselves.

The Nearings chronicled their sixty-year adventure in homesteading in the book The Good Life, which later came to be regarded as the pre-eminent how-to manual for the post-WWII back-to-the-land movement in North America. In it, Helen Nearing recounts the daily routine she and Scott maintained, along with their many and frequent guests:

Each day was divided into two main blocks of time—four morning hours and four afternoon hours. At breakfast time on week-days we first looked at the weather, then asked, ‘How shall we arrange the day?’ Then by agreement we decided which of these blocks of time should be devoted to bread labor and which to personally determined activities. Of necessity the weather was the primary factor in making the decision.

Suppose that the morning was assigned for bread labor. We then agreed upon the tasks that each member of the group should take on—in the garden, in the woods, on construction, in the shop, at sugarmaking or packing. If one’s bread labor was performed in the morning, the afternoon automatically became personally directed. One might read, write, sit in the sun, walk in the woods, play music, go to town. We earned our four hours of leisure by our four hours of labor.

[…] We took our time, every day, every month, every year. We had our work, did it and enjoyed it. We had our leisure, used it and enjoyed that. During the hours of bread labor we worked and worked hard. We have never worked harder and have never enjoyed work more, because, with rare exceptions, the work was significant, self-directed, constructive and therefore interesting.

It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And yet there was much more to the Nearings’ motivation than a desire to step off the proverbial treadmill and lead a simpler life. Their decision to homestead was also driven by their commitment to social justice.

Scott Nearing was an accomplished economist, a professor at the Wharton School, and a devout Socialist. Eventually fired for what were considered to be highly radical views, those views formed the cornerstone of the Nearings’ lives, and livelihoods:

We left the city with three objectives in mind. The first was economic. We sought to make a depression-free living, as independent as possible of the commodity and labor markets […] Our second aim was hygienic. We wanted to maintain and improve our health […] Our third objective was social and ethical. We desired to liberate and dissociate ourselves, as much as possible, from the cruder forms of exploitation: the plunder of the planet; the slavery of man and beast; the slaughter of men in war, and of animals for food.

The Nearings believed that the so-called American way of life—centered as it was on a relentless pursuit of profit—had not only depleted the earth’s natural resources, it was also only achievable for an elite few, who benefited from a concentrated distribution of resources at the expense of an otherwise impoverished class.  In his essay The American Way of Life, written in 1949, Scott writes:

The United States is fabulously rich. It also spends more on military preparations than any other nation. Its citizens are surrounded by public enterprises, such as highways, schools and hospitals, and by privately owned gadgets—automobiles, telephones, radios, electric refrigerators. But are bigness and manyness a sound measure of success?

Eighty years later, Nearing’s question is still relevant and the need for conversation around it is more important than ever. Since then, the consumption required to achieve our American aspiration of the ‘good life,’ has only escalated. In her book The Overworked American, sociologist Juliet Schor notes that by 1990, we could produce our 1948 standard of living in just six months’ time. And yet, household debt has never been higher and leisure time—or time spent not producing—has never been lower. According to Schor, the result of this cycle of work-and-spend is that Americans feel more overworked and stressed out than ever before. All that economic growth and we’re not even happy.

But there’s a bigger problem.

If the Nearings were concerned about the planet in 1932, consider this: According to anthropologist Dr. Jason Hickel (citing a footprint from the Global Footprint Network):

Right now, our planet only has enough resources for each of us to consume 1.8 ‘global hectares’ annually—a standardised unit that measures resource use and waste. This figure is roughly what the average person in Ghana or Guatemala consumes. By contrast, people in the US and Canada consume about 8 hectares per person, while Europeans consume 4.7 hectares – many times their fair share.

Equally disturbing: Hickel reveals that the wage gap that fuels our addiction to cheap consumer goods is perpetuating global poverty and instability.

These figures aren’t meant to depress, create shame, or point fingers, rather I believe Hickel is inviting us to objectively explore what’s going on in the world around us. This isn’t about guilt or judgement, but rather an invitation to create deeper awareness around issues that affect all of us living on this planet.

Dr. Hickel goes on to lay out a persuasive argument for why it’s time to ‘de-develop’ rich nations if we’re serious about not only saving the planet, but also about ending global poverty. Moreover, he posits that de-development is not necessarily incompatible with wellbeing:

If we look at measures of overall happiness and wellbeing in addition to life expectancy, a number of low- and middle-income countries rank highly. Costa Rica manages to sustain one of the highest happiness indicators and life expectancies in the world with a per capita income one-fourth that of the US.  In light of this, perhaps we should regard such countries not as underdeveloped, but rather as appropriately developed. And maybe we need to start calling on rich countries to justify their excesses.

It’s a radical idea…or is it?

Hickel acknowledges it’s one that would require enormous political and individual will. After all, it’s not necessarily in our nature to seek a lower standard of living. But he also points out that a growing number of people in the developed world believe we need to try to reverse our habits of consumption – and that doing so might just increase our overall happiness.

Personally, I am still at the beginning stages of this journey but it’s encouraging to see the simple living movement continue to re-invent itself, with people like Joshua Becker, Dave Bruno, and Marie Kondo, to name just a few, role modeling and bearing witness to the benefits of owning and producing less. But as the Nearings knew, living simply is about much more than de-stressing or pursuing the good life for ourselves. Rather, it’s essential to live in a way that affirms the belief that our ‘good life’ should not trade on the exploitation of the earth or its people.

I’m not saying this will be an easy journey or even that any one individual living a simple life is the solution. Will moving into a tiny house or giving up my iPhone save the world? No. That will require governments and international institutions taking enormous steps in the areas of policy and economic reform. But those things won’t happen without a massive cultural shift – which starts with each of us deepening our awareness around the impact of our daily actions – and advances with each of us re-thinking what it means to live the ‘good life.’

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