There’s a dance that goes by many names all over the world that explains our spiritual and physical exhaustion and emotional fatigue. I call it the Silicon Valley Shuffle because that’s where I live, but this dance is done in various forms from Omaha to Hong Kong. Regardless of the name you choose, there are four steps to this dance that accelerate in rhythm and beat with every measure.
See if you can recognize these steps: bigger, better, faster, more. These four words drive our lives, our schedules, our relationships and even our souls. They define the American mind-set. Our competitive businesses want to do things bigger, better, faster and in greater quantity than their rivals. Our competitive job market prompts us to put in a few more hours and then a few more on top of that, because if we don’t … well, anyone can be replaced. And our consumer wants and needs drive us in the same direction. We’re never quite content with the status quo, so we’re constantly looking to acquire whatever is bigger, better, faster and more.
That’s how marketers appeal to us as consumers, and that’s how we survive in this competitive culture as innovators, entrepreneurs and difference-makers. We’re cutting-edge people in a world of opportunity.
The opportunities in our society are great, but the pressure and demand to take advantage of these opportunities—as many as possible—are overwhelming. We’re constantly feeling pushed to be everything, do everything and have everything, and as a result we live in a continual state of fatigue.
As a result, our souls have a dis-ease. I don’t mean a disease, as in a physical illness. I mean a dis-ease—a lack of ease. A nagging discomfort. A constant, underlying stress. This race we’re running in order to get bigger, better, faster and more is completely destroying our peace. We’re losing our grounding. We don’t know where we are or where we’re going or even how to go at a reasonable pace. Pretty soon, we realize that our relationships are coming unglued. We work mountains of hours, often for the sake of people we love, but end up with superficial relationships with those very same people because we’ve spent so much time working that we haven’t invested in them. We’ve exchanged real, down-to-earth, quality relationships for money-bought privileges and perks. We’ve squeezed out the necessary time for friendships, marriage, children—even God. There’s little authenticity or depth left—just enough to maintain our relationships superficially.
“I’ll do that as soon as … ” is the classic line of the overcommitted person. We’ll catch up on those relationships when this business deal is done or when we finish this project or when the kids get out of diapers and don’t demand so much attention or when …
But “when” never happens. Our “someday” thinking never really works out.
Once in a while, when people take a break, step back and get alone with God, they get a glimpse of what’s really happening.
More often than not, it takes a crisis to really do anything about it—a biopsy report or a car crash or a layoff—or sometimes God breaks in and encounters us on a rare vacation or a retreat. We suddenly see the speed of what’s happening, and it seems ludicrous that we wouldn’t have time for the God who made us or for the person we vowed to grow with “until death do us part” or the people who share our DNA and need our love. But the Silicon Valley Shuffle, by whatever name, is lethal; we get caught up so completely in the demands that we often miss what matters most.
Is it possible to break free from this trap—from the high-speed, high-pressure, high-demand, guilt-producing dis-ease of our complex lives?
I believe the answer is yes. But if we’re going to simplify our lives, we’ve got to make a proper diagnosis. A good doctor will ask how long you’ve had your symptoms, if certain diseases are common to your family, what your diet is like, how often you exercise and on and on.
I’ve found that two diagnostic questions are very helpful in getting to the root of this spiritual disease.
The first question reveals what’s behind the bigger, better, faster, more. If you keep running relentlessly toward an elusive goal, there’s got to be something that motivates you. You’ll go a long way toward finding out what it is by asking yourself this first question: What do you want to be known for? Maybe you want to be known as a kind and loving person. Perhaps what you want to be known for has more to do with your role—being a great mom or dad or student. Or maybe your skills or abilities are the key—you want to be known as a problem-solver or a wise person or for being great at your job.
Most of us can come up with some pretty good goals. I don’t know anyone who would say, “I want to be known for being an overextended, hurried parent who doesn’t connect with my kids.” Or, “I want to be a successful businessperson who is on his third marriage and doesn’t have time for any deep friendships.”
We know the right answers.
But most of us have a disconnect between what we consciously acknowledge and what our time and energy are devoted to. We say one thing, but our schedules and to‑do lists don’t reflect our words. Intellectually, we have one list of priorities while, practically, we demonstrate another.
The second question is a lot like the first, but it is more precise: If you could only be remembered for one thing, what would it be? If you had to describe your goal in just one word—what would you say? If your spouse or kids or friends described you, what one word would you most want to hear that epitomizes who you are?
Maybe you can think of several possible answers. But there’s one word that should be at the top of the list. Every other attribute is at best a distant second. Your friends and family may think you’re a wonderful person, but if you don’t have this one characteristic, you’re missing what matters most. The number one characteristic we need to embody, the highest priority for our lives, is love!
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a great spouse or parent, a good friend or an excellent artist, businessperson, counselor, athlete or anything else. Being “creative” or “brilliant” or “successful” is not a bad goal. If we can fulfill all our desires for the roles we want to have and the things we want to accomplish, that’s great. But above all, if we don’t epitomize love, none of the rest matters.
That’s the key to simplifying life: making love your number one priority. Yet most of what we do, no matter how good our intentions are, undermines our ability to love well. We clutter our lives with complications and crowd out the one thing that would simplify them. We find ourselves doing more and loving less. We need a practical gameplan to focus on what matters most.
*Excerpted from chapter 1 of Spiritual Simplicity (Howard Books) by Chip Ingram.*