William Faulkner loudly proclaimed that it couldn’t be done; bringing his fist down hard on the aged oak table for emphasis. The other writers gathered there responded that indeed, it was impossible. The unknown writer who proposed the bet sat stock-still and listened as the debate he started raged for thirty minutes.
All agreed that no one could write a story using only six words… all except one.
Ernest Hemingway, who had been uncharacteristically quiet during the raucous debate assured the dissenters that it could be done. In fact, he assured them, not only could he write it, he could do it immediately.
The writers gathered around the bar and threw down ten dollars apiece to cover their bet. Hemingway smiled and scrawled on a napkin: For sale, baby shoes, never worn.
Stunned and silent, they peered at the paper and sat back in their chairs as Faulkner pushed the money across to Hemingway.
True artists and creative types long have known that constraint is the impetus for creativity; that great art is a subtractive process. Michelangelo explained that he created the masterpiece David by simply removing anything that wasn’t David. It is by taking away marble or stone that shadow and depth renders form to that which is left. It is by taking away the harshness of primary colors by adding them together in differing amounts and combinations that hundreds of colors, tints and hues become possible.
Oscar Wilde observed, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” As it turns out, he was absolutely correct. Like great art, a great life is one free of unnecessary clutter. It is a life of choice, which by its very nature is a subtractive process. With every choice we make, we eliminate thousands of other choices.
Generally, the greater our wants, the greater our confusion and the greater the chaos we invite into our lives. Those who live truly great lives focus on and seek only a few things and they are very clear about what those are. You never drive through the neighborhoods of people who are living well and see yards piled with junk. That’s the scene you find in poor neighborhoods. Why? Because those who have attained wealth have done so by making good choices; choices that minimize the clutter in their minds and in their lives.
Most treatises on wealth and successful living teach you how to get more. That’s a backwards approach and why so many programs that purport to produce prosperity fail to deliver. Before you can successfully acquire more, you must make room for it.
A great life, like great art requires constraint; requires that we let go of the things that serve more as shackles than wings. You cannot put life-giving elixir into a cup already filled with contaminated water. You must first empty the cup and cleanse it of the contamination or the elixir will become tainted and you may still fall ill.
Look at your life. What contaminates and what is life-giving? What in your environment do you own and what owns you? What you truly own adds life and vitality and joy to your life. It is the elixir that strengthens and gives you wings to soar to the highest heights.
What owns you holds you down. It contaminates your life and keeps you weak and confined; shackled to a life you don’t want.
Clutter in your home or work environment owns you. It robs you of time and space and a sense of well being. The same is true of clutter in your mind. What ideas do you cling to even though they are keeping you from the realizing your potential and living your dream? What relationships do you tolerate even though they drag you down?
Look at your life. What’s holding you down? What must you exorcise? What choices must you make to get on your true path and walk it freely? Before you attempt to gain more, decide what you have to let go of in order to create the masterpiece you imagine your life could be, and then let it go.
To have a great life and true wealth, you must first pare away the excess. You must step back and examine your life much like Michelangelo examined the marble slab that concealed David and methodically eliminate anything that prevents your masterpiece from emerging.
Nothing you do in life will get you farther faster than taking this first giant step. Life imitates art. We are the creators of what we live. Will the life you create be an authentic masterpiece or a cheap imitation? The choice is yours.
Opening analogy adapted from an article written by Tim Durkin for the National Speakers Association