Living with Less and Loving It
Books are a passion in my life. When I want to feel joy, I take a mental journey to some of the used bookstores I have visited in the United States and England. There is Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon with new and used books mixed together in a labyrinth of rooms at five different levels, or little Alcuin Books in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the most beautiful books imaginable are at Bauman’s Rare Books in Las Vegas.
In London, there is Sotheran’s, Harrington’s, Magg’s, and the little shops in a short alleyway called Cecil Court. Sotheran’s bought Charles Dicken’s library upon his death, and a block away, Hatchard’s is where Dickens, as well as Churchill, bought their books. I stared at a large and ornate book of Shakespeare’s plays at Harrington’s, one of six in the world I was told, priced at 500,000 pounds or about $750,000. And then there is a favorite of mine, G. David’s in an alley of the high street in Cambridge, England and right next to it, a hidden little church where the reformer Hugh Latimer preached. You can still see the pulpit from which he spoke the Word.
At one time my wife, Marcy and I had about 3,000 books in our home.
Living in the “Lighthouse” Stage
But while they have brought me joy, age brings limitations. Dogged honesty requires me to admit that I cannot read all I have, and there are some I don’t have that I am compelled to read. While I am determined to keep some of them, a C. S. Lewis 1st edition of The Great Divorce, the works of John Wesley published in 1826, barely thirty years after his death in 1791, I “hear the bell tolling” and some must go. My reading plan must move from random to more purposeful, without being punishingly legal. And many books must go. I have recently removed over 300 books.
Is that not like life? Entrepreneurial leaders, for example, think and live large. And their ideas, dreams and passions are like a flood cascading over multiple venues and relationships. However, a standard problem arises if their enterprise begins to succeed. They must shift from the exciting “floodlight” of energetic activity, now flowing helter-skelter over the banks, to a disciplined, laser focus. For many entrepreneurial leaders this phase of growth feels like giving back territory already won, but it is actually strengthening the core so that the enterprise may move from the chaotic floodlight stage, through the necessary discipline of the laser stage, to the sustaining “lighthouse” stage, increasing again the scope but with greater discipline, strength, and depth, giving a longer reach to the vision and goals.
Jethro told Moses that he was handling the conflicts of the tribe of Israel in a way that could not be sustained. We see the discipline of Jesus. He had taught and healed far into the night. Up early the next morning he moved off into seclusion to pray only to be found by his disciples who informed him that more people were gathering at the house. Jesus’ surprising response was, “We must go to the next village.” Need and opportunity are not always mandate.
The Life-Cycle of a Leader
In leadership development, a leader may begin his or her career with, let us say, three primary skills. If one is gifted and attentive, they may increase the scope of skills over time to perhaps 15 or 20. But eventually, if burnout is to be avoided, they must return to a scope of two or three, now seasoned with knowledge, humility, and wisdom for maximum impact.
Reduction of scope plus increase of focus often yields increased impact.
For many of us, we have found 2020 a year of reduction, of social contact, of travel, of options, of a sense of safety. But is it possible that in the increased focus on the present, some may have actually found a place of increased impact? Meanwhile, I will continue my often-painful reduction to my library, with the knowledge that the process may actually increase my joy.