Today I started reading In Pursuit of Elegance by Matthew May. May's premise in the book is that what's not there - in a product, a service, a piece of art, a book - often trumps what is. 12 pages in and I am completely hooked. It's about what we choose not to do that shapes as our lives as much as what's on our to-do list. It's about editing, making decisions, and taking away the unnecessary so that the necessary can shine.
May quotes a lot of sources, referencing everything from ancient Chinese proverbs to pop culture. It never feels contrived, forced, or overly ambitious. He is making connections between seemingly disparate ideas, and teaching us how to live a more valuable, satisfying life in the process.
Early on, May quotes Jim Collins's now infamous essay that he wrote for USA Today on the subject of "stop-doing." Collins says, "A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit - to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort - that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company, or most important of all, a life."
It's these last two words that got me. I understand editing a novel, a piece of music, a company. We spend a lot of time, maybe most of our time, stuffing our lives full of experience, people, places, and things. We do more and more and more to the point that we can't remember what we did 10 minutes ago. So what if we did and said less and less and less. What would our lives look like then? What if we only put the precious time we have with one another toward things that passionately, ardently interest us? How would we be different, and how would the world around us be different? Could we actually have a greater positive impact by focusing on the precious few things that really matter to us rather than the mediocre many?
Jazz great John McLaughlin said, "All the music that was ever heard came from the inner silence in every musician." I extend that quote to say that every human accomplishment has come to be because someone took something from their inner being, from their own personal silence, and gave it to the world. It's really the only work we ever have to do: strip away the fascades, the excess, what we can live without so that we can know and nurture the handful of things that really count.