Essentialism is subtitled “The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” In the book, author Greg McKeown attempts to show readers that their lives can be more successful and enjoyable if they learn to make thoughtful decisions about their agendas instead of allowing others to control how they expend their energy.
I can attest to the tendency of most people to concede to requests or demands from other people instead of setting out their own course. As McKeown points out, humans are hard-wired to say “yes” to requests, to please other people. We get a lot of satisfaction from developing a reputation as a helpful, go-to person. But if we are pre-occupied with serving a multitude of people, we will be distracted from working on what is fundamentally important to us. Instead, we need to establish our objectives and then direct our energy toward those objectives, personally and professionally.
To become an essentialist, a person needs to separate the important, essential stuff in life from the trivial, nonessential stuff and then to prioritize the nonessential stuff. “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” McKeown makes fun of corporations whose mission statements often attempt to give equal priority to all stakeholders – i.e., customers, stockholders, employees, vendors. When you try to prioritize everything, you actually prioritize nothing. “Trade-offs are real, in both our personal and our professional lives, and until we accept that reality we’ll be doomed to be … stuck in a ‘straddled strategy’ that forces us to make sacrifices at the margin by default that we might not have made by design.” You can’t do it all.
Ayn Rand would have found McKeown’s disdain for never-ending altruism to be refreshing.