Tweet, text, Tinder. Skype, Strava, Snapchat. Pinterest, Poke, Post. Email, eHarmony, eBay. Instagram, iBank, iTunes.
The list of social media, apps and online portals goes on and on. Does this ability to plug into and surf every digital wave really make our lives more enriched and give us more depth?
Most of us merely skim across the surface of this cyber world, accumulating data at warp speed that mostly falls into a vacuous void. We futilely seek to show other people (in truth, often people we don't really like) how successful we are. We service a habit every bit as addictive as nicotine, alcohol or hard drugs.
From complexity to simplicity
Lately I've been thinking more about the simple life (and I'm not referring to Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie – that's called a really bad reality TV show).
A study earlier this year from Deloitte uncovered the challenge of "the overwhelmed employee" dealing with a flood of information including email, meetings, text messages, conference calls and distractions.
Some of the world's most successful entrepreneurs do all they can to simplify their lives. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was a devotee. "Focus and simplicity, that's been one of my mantras. Simple can be harder than complex, but it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains," he said. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently confessed he wears the same oufit to work each day in order to simplify life and free his brain for big decisions. "Simplicity in life allows you to focus on what's important," he said.
Perhaps the answer to happiness and success is not about having more or being constantly connected. Maybe it's about stripping back, cutting out the noise and going back to basics.
Case No.1: The Australian rowing team physio turned world-class athlete
Rachel Neylan won a silver medal at the 2012 cycling world championship after simplifying her life. "Scaling back is paramount, not only to make financial sacrifices but also to cut out noise, action and subsequent social pressures which creep in from our modern day world of 'must haves'," she says.
Neylan was working as a physiotherapist for the Australian men's rowing team and made the decision to leave her career, scale back and follow her dream to be a world-class athlete.
"Initially moving to Adelaide a few years ago was the game-changer. I have a PO box, a storage unit, lease a car and have a pre-paid mobile. I choose to live in between Australia and Italy in smaller regional centres, to optimise training terrain, road safety and to remain close to airports to minimise car travel.
"Although successful people seem lucky, it is never an accident. Most circumstances, behind closed doors, behind the glamour and lights, there are always journeys explained by hard work, sacrifice, priority-driven decision making and scaling back."
Case No.2: The million-dollar banker turned taxi driver
Last week I was sitting in a taxi on my way to Sunshine Coast Airport and Sam, the driver, told me he had been a high-flying corporate banker earning a seven-figure salary. He travelled the world, stayed in fancy hotels, wore the best suits, watches and clothes, and drove expensive cars. One day he was on a bus going to Melbourne airport and he looked around at all of the "monochrome grey suits slouched with their noses dug deep into their phones and when I looked up the happiest person on the bus was the driver".
That's when Sam made a choice to simplify his life. "I called my wife and said 'we really need to analyse our lives'."
After his business trip, Sam and his wife sat down and decided to sell their expensive waterfront home, take their young children out of private schools and move to the Sunshine Coast to start afresh.
"I spent nearly two decades living out of my suitcase and chasing the big deals," he told me. "While I look back and don't have any regrets about the career path I chose, the reality was I was spent all of my waking hours consumed by work. My mobile phone ran my life – it was wedged to my right hand like a metallic prosthesis."
Sam acknowledged it took some serious readjustment, but after settling into their new life "I now feel happier than I've ever been. I drive 2 to 3 days a week and I also do a bit of consulting. The best thing is I have joined the local surf club, I fish most weekends, take my children to school, am involved in the community, attend all of the school events and I have a much healthier relationship with my wife once more".
Sam said embracing simple had changed his definition of success. "For me, success is no longer about chasing the big deals. It is about being a great father, a loving husband and a connected member of the community."
What about you?
Rachel and Sam's extreme examples may be unachievable for many, but we can all simplify parts of our lives to free up more time for what really matters. Here are a few questions to stimulate some thought bubbles:
- Do you really need the huge mortgage? Is the house you are you living in for you, or to impress other people?
- Will the world implode if you're not glued to your mobile from wake-up to bedtime?
- Is that expensive gift you bought for your significant other what really matters? Or are you better to really listen to them when they need a shoulder to lean on, and show them that you truly care?
- Do you really need the European car, the expensive private school fees, or the annual overseas holiday?
- Do you really need to fill up every minute in your diary just to keep up appearances?
Could your life do with some simplification? What measures have you already implemented?