In the movie Fight Club, the protagonist finds himself trapped in a life he doesn’t want. He has a good-paying job, nice things, and is well-liked by his peers, yet he’s miserable. He feels this way because he lives reactively without pursuing his desires. He simply takes any opportunity that presents itself and tells himself he should be happy when he isn’t.
His acceptance of his unhappiness is so deeply ingrained that he must create a new identity to experience life the way he wishes. This personality is driven by the philosophy of “letting that which does not matter truly slide.” However, he loses control of his second self and it becomes more like his evil twin. The story’s message is that forcing yourself to accept a life you don’t want isn’t good for you, and could possibly make you go insane.
Similarly, in the book Walden, Henry David Thoreau observes that most people “lead lives of quiet desperation.” He means that they accept their circumstances without doing what they really want to do in life. He believes people should pursue their dreams instead.
What is Essentialism?
This message of self-determination is echoed in the book by Greg McKeown. In it, he discusses the path of the Essentialist as being one in which you prioritize your life to focus only on what matters most to you. He says, “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
A Nonessentialist, like the main character in the movie and like one of Thoreau’s “quietly desperate” people, maintains an attitude in which they have no choices in life. They do things because they feel like they must; they believe that everything matters; and they believe that they should try to accomplish everything. It’s this attitude that leads people to live unhappily, uncomfortably, and even co-dependently as they let others take advantage of them.
An Essentialist, on the other hand, believes that everything they do is a choice they make. They’re free to pursue the things that are important to them and make those things their highest priorities. They believe that only a few things truly matter in life and that everything else is inherently inconsequential.
How to be an Essentialist
The trick to being an Essentialist is to discern what’s fundamentally important to you as an individual. When you do this, you’re able to choose which problems you’re willing to face and to simply ignore the ones you aren’t. This means fully exploring all the possibilities in all your choices while considering the sacrifices necessary to be successful. If something matters enough to you, then you’ll be willing to pay the cost. If it doesn’t, then you won’t.
Life is full of distractions, limitations, and useless information. These things make it difficult to do what we want. Living according to the philosophy of Essentialism lets you cut through the clutter to become the person you always wanted to be.