Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Short-Term Sacrifice, Long-Term Peace


  • -Here’s an insightful article from Jugglezine on the benefits of voluntary simplicity. One outlook on sacrifice here: happiness as the yardstick of success (and well worth some sacrifices).
  • -Considering making your family a one-paycheck enterprise? It may be less of a financial loss than it seems at first glance. This online calculator is designed to figure real earnings (eg, what’s left after expenses that typify double-income families: child care, meals out, etc).
  • -More than once I have run into usability design sites (a subject I know next to nothing about) that talk about simplicity from a more technical perspective. Following a long list of intriguing simplicity quotes, this author includes Edward de Bono’s 10 rules for simplicity. They translate beautifully from design to life design!
  • -Jordan Cooper, a fellow blogger, writes about needless spending with great perspective, informed by the contrast of work in a homeless shelter and life with affluent friends.
  • -Duane Elgin has had a lot to say on matters like this. Here, an interview where he notes a new perspective that has grown in the last decade: I'm here as more than just a consumer to be entertained; I'm here as a soulful being who wants to grow. He also recognizes that Little changes can accumulate into a tidal wave of change!


It was a week of small sacrifices: I took a pay cut, transitioned away from managing, oriented the new manager, adjusted to the technical challenges of telecommuting, squeezed in e-mails to my new freelance prospects and writing classmates, waited for the school bus with Gavin while my mind raced ahead of me.

I had to ask myself, during this stressful week, was it all worth it? The philosophy I’ve developed on day-to-day sacrifices is the same philosophy I developed about childbirth. It wasn’t the pain itself that felt unbearable, it was the prospect of enduring pain. I was blessed with a remarkably short labor – by the time I considered an epidural Gavin had already emerged partway. But I immediately understood why most women go for the medicine: if no one can tell you how long the pain will last, it’s hard to bear. Great case in point: a rare time when Tom and I managed to save some real money. There’s nothing like finding out you are pregnant to make you finally opt in for homemade meals, cancel that bedroom set you ordered, and mull over every dollar’s best use. But I doubt I could have sustained that über-frugal mentality for more than 8 months!

Many of us are better sprinters than we are long-distance runners, and there’s a very human psychology to this. Short pushes, like labor and delivery, can be managed, especially if we know there’s a good outcome on the other side (again, like labor!). The scrambled, messy week I just pushed through will lead, I hope, to a less stressful work life in the long run, a well-informed new manager, new work that fills some of the gap of a diminished salary, a fresh start with my beloved book.

The trick, of course, is knowing when the small sacrifices tip the balance and add up to one big stressful schedule. How many small yeses add up to being overcommitted and under-rested? I’ve started to set small anti-deadlines: no more freelance work until mid-month, no weekend plans until I feel more rested, no major household chores until I‘ve finally had some time alone. It’s also helped to really know my lasting priorities: I’m moonlighting now so I can afford to freelance full time later; I’m squeezing in that writing class so I can resume the nourishing journey that is my (abandoned) book; I’m returning to church and its annual “Rally Day” picnic because my family and spiritual sides feel malnourished of late. I’m turning 40 this week, and the gift I’ve asked for is a weekend day to just write. There’s no possession that would mean more to me than this gift of creative time, a space for pursuing my highest passion.

In my quest for simplicity, sometimes my short-term life becomes more complicated! Our Friday family dinner out and the long, lazy stroll afterwards felt like a celebration: I pushed through, and now I can relax a bit (or more than a bit: the Chianti went right to my head!). Yes, this time my stressful week seemed worth it. Short-term complexity, long-term simplicity? I hope so.


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