Simplifying life: The art of choosing over being chosen

In the fourth six-weeks set of my fourth grade year, I hid my report card. I’d made a B.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been horrible at math. (I’m still terrible at it. I still use my fingers to count or a calculator to do simple division.) That six-weeks we’d done quizzes over multiplication tables and it didn’t go well.

I can remember hiding behind our computer desk after mom found out my secret, but they caught me eventually.

Dad wasn’t mad at me. He wasn’t upset with me. But — even at the age of 10 — I could tell he was confused because he’d expected better. He told me I needed to try harder. That I needed to learn math, but 12 years later, I know that’s not true.

Here’s the thing: no matter how hard I try, I’ll never be good at math. Even if I spent the next 48 hours memorizing formulas and tables I still would not be good at math. I’d be good at memorizing.

Memorization, habit and patterns are rarely good reasons to do something.

Choice — personally deciding “I like this and I don’t like that” — is the reason to start, to follow through, to show up regularly.


A couple books I read recently have been about choice. My favorite was “Essentialism: The Disciplined Art Of Less” by Greg McKeown, who suggests thinking about choice in polar terms.

McKeown says to ask “Do I love this or do I just do it?” for everything cluttering life.

With parchment paper and sharpies, I took this to heart and channeled down to bare essentials — to what I love doing. Things like: writing, leading and caring. Now, everything not on the list is on an organized path out.

I want to love the few thing I’m doing and I want to do them fully — with grace and care.

This means choosing to raise my hand less often, even though I love going first. And choosing to say less — waiting to say the right things, not just say things.

This art of choice isn’t selfish. It lets us provide our best to a world filled of (and expecting) mediocrity.


Hemingway famously rewrote the ending for “A Farewell To Arms” 47  times. He told George Plimpton of the Paris Review the reason for this was: “Getting the words right.”