Earlier this year I interviewed MRG Network member Edyta Pacuk, a consultant, business owner, martial artist, mother, client, friend and one of the most authentically courageous people I know. In 2014 Edyta participated in a Kilimanjaro Fundraising Expedition, and raised over $25,000 for Outward Bound Canada’s charitable program for Women survivors of violence. At last year’s Wisdom 2.0 Business conference Edyta shared her interest in simplicity, an interest that began on Kilimanjaro.
Edyta opened up our interview with a powerful story. “I was hit with a notion of keeping things simple when I was really struggling climbing up Mount Kilimanjaro. The altitude sickness was pressing so hard on me that breathing was already effort enough, but I also needed to move my legs to propel myself forward. What this did was brought the essence of simplicity very close to home for me, because I started to ask myself this question, ‘Will it help me climb the mountain?’ If the answer was no, it was very easy to say I’m not going to do that. There was no guilt. There was no excuse. There was no apology. It was just that the climb, the goal I had and what I committed to was so acute, that everything was easy to be judged as relevant or not relevant.”
…while the notion of simplicity as a wise pursuit is compelling, what I find myself truly struck by is the courage it takes to choose simplicity, to make the choice for simplicity over the complex and the many.
Many have written about the wisdom of simplicity. Isaac Newton famously said, “Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” And while the notion of simplicity as a wise pursuit is compelling, what I find myself truly struck by is the courage it takes to choose simplicity, to make the choice for simplicity over the complex and the many. To actually decide what is worth it and what is not, to be confident enough, and to trust enough that we are choosing the wisest course of action. Don’t we all live, to some degree, hedging our bets? Aren’t we trying to juggle more than we can handle well or with grace because we are afraid to choose, afraid to focus, and afraid that we may get it wrong? Aren’t our complex, overscheduled professional and personal lives, at least to some degree, evidence of our fear of the choices that simplicity requires?
In my professional encounters I often witness organizations with impossible numbers of strategic goals. I see leadership models collapsing under the weight of excessive lists of competencies or other forms of expectations. I see leaders who are struggling to try and be all things to all people. I see exhaustion. I see overwhelmed individuals, tired teams and weary organizations.
When I asked Edyta about why she believes we spend so much time making things more complex than they need to be, her answer was simple, “Fear. It is fear of losing power or fear of losing relevance, or fear of being judged as incompetent. So, people worry and over complicate their lives and at an executive level, they over complicate their organizations.”
For Edyta, simplicity starts with having clarity. Finding the answers to questions like “Where can you make a difference?” In her words, “This then helps us to keep things simple and not feel guilty about saying no to a thousand things.”
Edyta’s formula for finding the courage to overcome the fear was a three part formula – First is learning to let go, as she puts it “nothing has meaning until you assign meaning to it.” The second is to delegate and the trust people around you. And finally, the third part is focus – say no to anything that doesn’t serve what is most important to you.
Edyta was emphatic about the importance of purpose in finding courage. At one point she described it this way “On day four and five, just before the summit, I kept asking myself if I would be able to make it another step. What I discovered was that because I was so committed to this purpose, that even though I felt I was at the end and I was completely spent, I still didn’t want to let go. And so, I dug deeper. It’s surprising when you truly believe that this is something that you need to be doing how much more strength is in you when you think that you’re done. Ultimately I think that perseverance and the courage to fight come from the alignment between your values and the direction you are taking.”
So I will end this post by asking you the same question I came away from my interview with Edyta asking myself. What goal is so important to you that you would be compelled to dig deeper, to overcome your fear to pursue it with such simple, clear focus that you will willingly say no to a thousand other things?
Note: Edyta has just recently returned from her second fundraising expedition, climbing to the base camp at Mount Everest. Read more about her experience here.