Trillium Lake, Mount Hood, Oregon

Simplicity ≠ Simple

Life is about choices, so what are you willing to let go of?

“Simplicity is an achievement. It follows from a hard-won clarity about what matters.” Alain De Botton


Sounds simple, right?

Not so.

If, like me, you’re looking for a simple existence, where life feels effortless and the important stuff gets your attention, then put your tin hat on. It’s time to get prepared for a rocky road ahead.

It’s one thing knowing what you want, but actually achieving it isn’t easy. That’s not to say it’s not a cause worth fighting for.

More and more people are feeling overwhelmed with modern life, in many cases leading to loneliness, anxiety and depression.

And many of us crave simpler times with less stress and just, well, less.

If you know what it is that you want – or at the very least don’t want – and are prepared to put the hard work in, then the rewards are waiting for you.

Just get ready to make some tough decisions. And piss a few people off in the process.

Tell me why

The secret to making big changes in your life is knowing why you’re making them.

By focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel, you’ll develop the strength to stick to your guns if – or more accurately when – your actions get questioned by others.

Doing something different

Be aware that many people will want to keep you in the pigeon hole they’ve put you in – it makes them feel safe. As soon as you step outside that comfort zone, it challenges them too.

Ever since I left my one and only ‘proper’ job almost 20 years ago I’ve been making changes in my life – some big, some small. All to create a life that I feel is true to me, one with more focus and less distraction.

So over the years I’ve developed a pretty thick skin when someone asks me “so why would you want to go and do that?”.

Usually my answer is, “because it feels right”.

That’s because I’ll measure my life by my own yardstick, not someone else’s.

What’s beneath all this?

“Everything starts with a need. An itch. That feeling in your belly that says “I need…” A longing.” Charles Davies

As human beings we all have needs. A negative emotion in you typically indicates an unmet need. And unmet needs are often the starting point for action — to address the imbalance, and make us feel better.

Angry that your partner has left their dishes in the sink? Maybe your need for respect hasn’t been met.

Frustrated that your client has once again ripped apart your design work? That need for autonomy is feeling a little unloved.

I’m no different.

When I tune into my needs life just seems to flow. Obviously other than food and shelter, these needs regularly come up for me:

  • Freedom
    Like many entrepreneurs, a need for autonomy made me go it alone
  • Connection
    We all want to belong and I’m no different
  • Impact
    Knowing I’m helping others make my life worthwhile
  • Travel
    In the words of Kim Slade ‘every time I hit the road I feel alive’
  • Time
    When you have kids like I do, every second seems to be worth a bit more
  • Love
    It’s probably all we all need

On our online course the first lesson is about needs – not your idea or business model, but the needs that are driving your ideas. This is because a company is just a vehicle for the founder to play out his or her needs in the best way they know.

So what unmet needs are behind your desire to make some positive changes?

The big questions you need to ask yourself

Digging into the following themes and questions has given me the ammunition to make positive changes in my own life. Changes that have led to me being way happier and more fulfilled, which has had a knock-on effect to my family and business.

1: WORK / Is there a point to the work I do?

Ever since I ever got paid in exchange for my time, I’ve always asked myself this question. In the past, more often than not the answer was no. Sometimes I stayed longer than I should have. But as I’ve got older and wiser I’ve learnt to cut out the nonsense – the pointless meetings, the endless debates and the office politics – to focus on what matters. Even as far as walking away from a successful company I’d help build because I didn’t see the point in it anymore (aided a little by the fact I’d found something else that did).

“Sometimes I wake up and think: ‘Oh my God, I don’t have a job’. My life is a vocation; I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Douglas Copeland

2: MONEY / Is the money alone a price worth paying?

Whatever story you’re telling yourself about why you’re persevering with that job you hate, it’s probably not true. So many of us have an unhealthy relationship to money. Being aware of this and unravelling it will free you up to make your biggest contribution – and help you to stop working for the man. In the past work has made me ill, angry and depressed – and for what? I told myself the money was the important thing, looking back it wasn’t. I’ve found when I look after myself and find my flow, the money always comes. You just need to be prepared to embrace the uncertainty that comes with it.

3: TIME / What else could I be doing with this time?

Whilst living in London my wife and I used to spend hours getting to and from work. Like many I found it soul destroying. Whilst waiting for trains or buses I could feel my life ticking away before my eyes. A well-known study found that each minute added to a commute affects a worker’s anxiety, happiness and general wellbeing. You wouldn’t throw money away so don’t throw time away. Save yourself a ton of stress and move nearer to your work, arrange more flexible working conditions or, if necessary, ditch your job.

“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Mother Teresa

4: PLACE / Am I somewhere that allows me to do the things I love?

I moved to where the countryside meets the sea so I could be closer to nature and have healthier temptations around me. Rather than lots of bars and clubs on my doorstep I have incredible walks or cycle rides. Crucially I don’t have to think too much — in the words of Gregory Ciotti I’ve ‘designed for laziness’. Us humans are inherently lazy, so base yourself somewhere that means you don’t have to work too hard to do the things you love, and keep you well.

5: PEOPLE / Do I spend too much time with the wrong people?

I get my energy from inspiring, positive people that don’t moan, but get on with life, doing their thing. Like everyone they have setbacks, but they don’t get sucked into the complain game. If I spend too much time with mood hoovers I can feel my energy levels dropping and my stress levels rising. Nowadays I get to work with people I love and on projects I believe in, but it sure didn’t come easy. Or happen overnight.

Simplicity ≠ Simple

If you’ve got this far you’ll no doubt have realised that simplicity is first and foremost about understanding what matters to you, and from there making some tough choices to clear out anything that is in your way.

Having worked with hundreds, if not thousands, of people pursuing positive changes, I’ve come to realise that when you define success on your own terms, life and work become a whole lot simpler.

So take some time to consider, what is it that you want?

At The Happy Startup School we’re helping a new breed of entrepreneur that wants to chart their own path and connect with others doing the same.



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