My name is Dave, and I’m a scale-a-holic. I can’t stop optimizing. The funny thing is, I never thought it was a problem, because everyone I know does it too.
Who doesn’t love efficiency, right?
Read a book in five hours instead of ten?
Sign me up.
Brush my teeth in 30 seconds instead of 2 minutes with the same level of cleaning?
Sometimes though, I take it too far, and when I realized this one, ridiculously simple fact, it changed everything…
My obsession with optimization was distracting me from the things that make life worth living.
I’m not suggesting optimizing is a bad thing, but I found that I was doing it out of habit and losing track of the things that made my life richer and more fulfilling. I was focusing on the destination, and missing the journey.
Ultimately, our life isn’t measured by it’s efficiency, it’s measured by the moments of beauty and the fullness of appreciation.
Have you gone too far? Are you optimizing everything to such an extent that you’re missing out on enjoying life? Here are four few habits of people who are highly effective, but never satisfied.
Habit #1: Faster is Better
If I told you I had an innovative showering technique that would reduce the time it takes to shower from five minutes to one minute so everyday you saved four minutes in the morning, would you be interested?
Just think… if you saved four minutes a day, every day for the next twenty years that’s 486 hours or 20 whole days you would get back. That’s almost a month! Pretty tempting, right?
Now consider that the time you spend showering is reflective, peaceful and the place where you get your best ideas. Do you really want less showering time?
As Abe Lincoln is supposed to have said, it’s not the years in our life that counts, but the life in our years. When we become obsessed with optimization we can forget that quality of life is more important than quantity of life.
Habit #2: Valuing money over time
Which one of your peers would jump at the chance to make a lot of money even if it were something they didn’t enjoy? I mean a lot of money. Now think about the people who wouldn’t. What’s the difference in the character of those people?
At the root of this habit is forgetting that time is our most precious resource, more precious than money. We can always make more money, but we will never make more time.
Is it true that some people really do need money and should do whatever it takes for it? Yes, but what we see in western society is this becoming an unconscious habit. Making money no longer becomes about need, it turns into something we constantly strive for without thinking about it. We become like the kid who grows up without enough food then constantly hordes it his whole life.
Habit #3: Quantity of information over quality
I’ve met people that love telling me about all the books they’ve read, all the retreats they’ve been to and all the seminars they’ve attended. I used to be one of those people. I would devour information, like it was a race to finish first. I actually used to call myself a workshop/seminar junkie.
Then I looked back at some of the books I read. There were books I had read all the way through but I didn’t recall getting anything out them. Looking back now I see how ridiculous this is. I was reading books, but I wasn’t absorbing them. Much like a fast eater, I was taking in the information, but I wasn’t getting much out of it.
I decided to make a shift. I shifted all my focus away from how much I consumed and put it on how much what I consumed moved or changed me. I started reading slower, and often I would read the same book multiple times. I used audio books so I could really immerse myself in what was written. The goal became quality, not quantity. I would be just as served reading one book ten times than ten books one time.
When we just seek information instead of deepening the understanding of what we have already learned, it leads to a constant state of needing the next thing, the next book, the next workshop, the next teacher.
Habit #4: Trying to scale everything
There’s a story about a Harvard businessman and a fisherman in a small village. Read it slowly, and think about your life. If you’ve already heard it and want to skip it, go back and read habit #3 about quality over quantity.
An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied, “only a little while”. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish. The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”
To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”
“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”
“Millions – then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
We try and scale everything because we are playing into the 1950s version of the American Dream that sold us on thinking more is better. A 4000 square foot house is better than a 2000 square foot house, the iPhone 6 is better than the iPhone 5. So we were told, and we spend our whole life working to keep up with the Joneses.
Most of us spend our whole lives seeking more, never realizing that more never leads to enough.
A Question of Priorities
I’m not saying that we should all ditch the desire for accomplishment, optimization and efficiency. I am however suggesting that maybe our priorities are out of order.
I believe at the end of the day, once we’ve optimized and achieved as much as we can, we all return to this wisdom. When we get sick of filling the bottomless pit of more, we come home to the simple wisdom of enjoying each day and being grateful for what we have.
This is part 1 of a 4-part collection entitled The Beauty of Under Achievement