I still remember what Phyllis Wise, former Provost, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and first Asian-American President of the University of Washington (UW), said to me and a roomful of Asian-American women staff and faculty members at a reception we hosted for her in 2008 or 2009. The UW was going through a tough round of budget cuts and she told us, “You can’t do more with less. You can only do less with less.”
That was the smartest thing I’d ever heard a leader at the UW say. In fact, it’s one of the smartest things I’ve heard any leader say.
Every business or organizational leader I’ve ever met or read has said, “Do more with less!” I’ve heard that motto for years. And for a long time, I believed it. I worked for years at organizations and departments that gave me less money, time, and resources to do the work that needed to be done and yet always expected me to do more. More. MORE.
Even when I started my Prelaw Guru business back in 2010 and became my own boss, I found myself still pushing to “do more with less.” But who am I kidding? I never did more with less. I did more at the sacrifice of my body, my mind, and my relationships. I was doing more by using the resources I had at my disposal: ME.
This year, I’m putting a stop to this.
Even last year, when I thought I had achieved my dream of being a full-time writer, I was incredibly hard on myself and forced myself to be an introverted writer when I really needed a combination of introverted and extroverted work and activities to feel balanced. I kept making myself do more when I had less and less to give.
Last year’s isolation and depression, and this year’s recent death in my family, have helped me come to this decision. As you may have read in an earlier post, my pop-in-law Mr. Mark died last month. His health took an extreme downturn at the end of January. So, for the last 9 weeks, I’ve been either thinking about death, seeing death, or experiencing his death and its aftermath.
During the last 9 weeks, I stopped planning, I stopped writing daily agendas (for years, I’ve written my daily to-do’s on the back of an old business card and then crossed them off–actually, completely blacked them out–as I complete them), and I stopped caring about the future.
To witness a loved one die was sad and stressful in so many ways, but strangely, it didn’t completely depress me. It didn’t because Mr. Mark lived his last years on earth the way he wanted to live them. While I may not live my years the way he lived his, his dedication to his every day, to making this day–not yesterday and not tomorrow–what he wanted it to be, was inspiring to me.
It’s crazy. I’ve never been like this before. But life changes you, and so does death.
I have less cares about the future.
I have less tolerance for people who bring me down.
I have less ability to make myself do things I don’t want to do.
I have less energy to deal with bullshit.
This year, I’m taking Phyllis Wise’s advice, and putting it into motion in this way: if something feels right, I will do it. If it doesn’t feel right, I won’t do it. I’m not going to judge it either way.
This includes my writing. No more beating myself up for not writing enough words or not writing good enough. What I write is what I write. How much or how little or how good is the past. Whatever comes out, comes out. I accept it.
I’m living every day the best way that I can. I simply don’t have the energy or capacity for anything else. Finally, thankfully, I’m okay with doing less with less.
Peg Cheng is the author of The Contenders, a middle-grade novel centered on the question, can enemies become friends? She is currently writing another novel that is a re-imagining of the Snow White fairy tale set in 1980s Seattle. Peg is also a writing coach giving help, encouragement, and feedback to writers from all walks of life.