Sam Davidson met me one January day in a hip new coffee shop in Nashville. As he shared stories about his life and his books, I listened intently while still managing to watch the painting and construction of a stage. (If you’re in Nashville, this is a requirement.) As my schedule allows, I try to meet interesting people in person to learn their stories. Sam is an author, speaker and the cofounder of Cool People Care.
Leaving the little café, I tucked the book Sam gave me under my arm and made my way back to my car. Not needing much sleep, I average a book a day. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I’m sent so many books, I can’t keep up with them. But any book with tips on reducing stress has to go right to the top of the pile. I found a very practical and somewhat surprising book on how to Simplify Your Life.
I decided to follow-up with Sam to talk about his ideas on how to live a simple life.
Determine your values and passions
Sam, you have a very different approach to simplifying life. When I first saw the book cover, I thought “minimalism.” Any thoughts of minimalist advice were quickly cast aside when I saw your first chapter begins with the words, “Down with Minimalism.” You say, “Minimalism is boring.”
What is minimalism and why is that not the right place to start?
Minimalism puts the focus on quantity, perhaps to a fault. In the rush to minimize, I fear we miss out on a reflective or introspective process that gets to the heart of why it is we have too much stuff or feel too stressed. Instead, I encourage people to first determine their values and passions. Then, everything that doesn’t enable or enhance one of those can go.
Eliminate things that don’t match your purpose
Getting rid of things for the sake of minimalism may mean we miss out on a valuable tool needed to achieve a great dream. Furthermore, if all we have helps makes us better, the amount of things around us matters less since it’s all beneficial and important.
Why is simplicity important?
In a consumption-driven world like ours, the race to own and accumulate is a very real one, often resulting in stress and poor health. I try to define simplicity as focus – focus on the things, people, relationships, work, and opportunities that matter most. The stuff that excites us, makes life worth living, and compels us to get up in the morning. When we lead a life that’s too complex, full of stuff that doesn’t matter, then it’s easy to lose focus and miss the point – the point we’re personally working toward.
Let your passion point the way
This line struck me: “Your passion is a compass, not a map.” What do you mean by that and what have you learned about following your passion?
Too often, we assume that our passion will come with turn-by-turn directions, telling us every single step we’ll need to take in order to achieve some dream of ours. What I’ve found is that our passion simply points us in the direction we must go. There may be obstacles. We may have to pause and be patient at times. We may need to backtrack. The journey is not yet determined, but our passion (our true north, if you will) is certain.
I’ve used SWOT plans in the corporate world and was surprised to see you using it in a book on simplicity. How does a SWOT plan work when applying it to your life plan?
I, too, learned the SWOT plan (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) in a corporate strategic setting, and when I did, I thought there might be a personal application. I think an analysis like this forces us to look at our own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats much more objectively. It also introduces other people into the equation. Determining our strengths in a vacuum can be dangerous; we need the honest input of others in order to truly know where we’re strongest (see any American Idol audition to get a glimpse of what “talent” developed in a vacuum looks like). Once we determine these four key variables (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), we’ll know where to apply ourselves, which commitments to take on, which ones to decline, and what risks are worth taking.
Enjoy an hour of playtime every week
The subtitle of the book is “how to de-clutter & de-stress your way to happiness.” Would you share a few techniques to reduce negative stress?
I’m a big fan of play. At some point, perhaps post-college, we forget the need to play. It’s a natural need, one that we can see in children. Play allows us to forget momentary troubles and looming deadlines and lets us exercise, enjoy movement, and free ourselves mentally. The trick, however, is making time for this. We like to pretend we de-stress each weekend by sitting in front of a TV. I think this is a mistake. We need something that gets our blood flowing and lungs filling. We all need (I believe) at least an hour of uninterrupted playtime each week to reduce stress.
Overall, I’m seeing a shift, especially as students graduate and begin taking their first or second jobs. I’m seeing a shift from work/life balance to life/work balance, the idea that one’s life (hobbies, passions, relationships, causes) takes precedence over one’s work obligations. Due to advances in technology, I think we’ll see more work/life (or life/work) integration like working from home, results-only environments, flex time, and periods of work followed by mini-retirements like an extended sabbatical. I find it all very fascinating and liberating and hopeful.