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.”