This writing is a response to my last article on the practicalities of Less is more thinking. One of the responses I got to that article was from a dear friend and it went like this:
Interesting post, Ben. Very thought provoking. Sometimes more is good. Sometimes less is good. More and less are difficult labels to understand in isolation, philosophically. It is wholly dependent on context.
But not all growth is bad. Growth does seem to be part of the human condition. And it seems to be a prerequisite to happiness in many cases. Show me an unhappy person, and more often than not you will see a person who has stopped growing. Ceased trying to improve. Stopped hoping. Stopped serving.
So I wanted to draw this out a little more into the beauty of the expansive. Like a vast vista, the role of more is essential to our lives and it is good to want to crest the hill and see the peak. It’s more that keeps us hiking up the cliff to experience the view, the grandeur. We live in a world of much more than we can comprehend, and as we stare into the sky, the universe shouts its vastness.
What I portrayed in the last writing was an addiction to and presumption that we should all get more. That it’s always better. That is the grave mistake, but excess can find it’s place in our lives, although it comes with a caveat.
The rule to more is this: when you get more of what you want, you may get more of what you don’t want.
Hiking Everest gives you the most vast view of our planet that you may be able to achieve, and flying in an airplane surely does the same, but both have their heightened risk and responsibility. There’s an in-step increase on both sides of the ledger, and this may cool our hyper idealistic view of acquisition. It’s not our stairway to heaven, it’s just a pathway to somewhere else. And that else may indeed be a good place, but it’s not shangri-la like we are tempted to believe.
A prime example is a business our family just sold after 10 years of ownership and involvement. The quickest synopsis is that we were only able to jump in to this project because we had the right abundance of resources to do it. No resources, no business involvement. But we did, and so we jumped in. What we were able to get out of it was, eventually, something monetary and what may end up being a great investment with a return that is in line with the risk taken. So we had more, and we end up with more, but the dollars and cents don’t complete the equation.
What we also got out of this was heartache, headache, gray hair, less hair, experience, failure, success, validation, intimidation and a whole host of human experiences. We got more than we bargained for. Some of it good, some of it bad. The real test is to see what we were able to achieve out of the hard stuff. My own failures have made me much more gracious with people who are in the same place. I have developed some empathy, long-suffering, and a touch of grit by this experience.
And that’s just the point. More isn’t about comfort. That’s the unhealthy and narcissistic view of acquisition. We have to have a wholistic and healthy respect that it’s far greater than that, and that it’s not a comfortable pursuit. Have enough money for a Maserati? Well then get ready to own a car that is gorgeous, luxurious and a fortune to repair and service, which is inevitable. Do you just get the comfort and fun out of it? No, you get the responsibility of ownership. Even a billionaire with a rare collection guards it, he knows he needs to be responsible.
So Less is still more. Less is a worthy pursuit in balance to our human sense of entitlement. It breeds contentment and enough calm to be able to survey our surroundings more effectively. But More plays a role as well, it leads us to do great things and achieve things beyond ourselves, for someone other than ourselves. It will also force us to mature and grow, often in a proportionate share of discomfort. Pursuing more, therefore, needs to be intentionally approached, and not without a fair degree of warning. And when you do achieve new heights, take that deep breath and feel the accomplishment, but don’t ever look back down the mountain and tell your followers that it’s easy, or that they can just drive to the top. The picture has more color and depth to it than that.
And then there is something else to experience at this new height. Satisfaction. I agree with my friend that when we are growing, we are happier people. But we are also better people. Hopefully it’s not our ego that grows so much as our sense of the world, our smallness in it, but also our impact. When we reach the peak, I hope we all look around and see a higher one worth tackling.