November 03, 2009

Doing Less is More

The saying goes "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." I'm not sure where it's from. It's one of those random bits of data one picks up from popular culture, but it's commonly billed as a piece of Eastern wisdom. However, I do find that although teachers seldom appear, teachings on the other hand seem to pop out of the blue. Although when I consider, it is more likely that I am simply able to recognize them as teachings at the time I am receptive to them.

So the Fall 2009 cover of Tricycle spoke to me with it's simple title, "Do Less." The author of the cover article, Marc Lesser, warns "...doing less can actually be very hard." Don't I know it. This semester I've had to learn how to say no, a task I am still struggling with. I have committed myself to only three tasks: 1) graduating, 2) after graduation, and 3) the Daily Nebraskan. If the request cannot A) be taken care of in ten minutes or less or B) directly contribute to one of those three goals - then the answer is No. Thus I find myself cutting out student government and student organizations, cooking and reading novels. I thought I would miss these things.

Perhaps surprisingly, after the fact, No doesn't seem so scary. I don't miss the obligations I've given up because what I've chosen to focus on is something I find very engaging. I certainly don't miss cooking and I can use books as rewards rather than distractions.

Naturally, I haven't been entirely successful. I got put in charge of researching and developing recruitment methods for growing the planning program, but I managed to bring my contributions to a conclusion and then hand it off, with a very firm statement that I would not be working on it anymore. Yet when our department head asked me to accompany a muckity-muck to a fancy luncheon with some other students and big-wigs, my newly found No skills deserted me again. Oh well. I suppose I need more practice.

Marc Lesser, takes a somewhat more esoteric approach in his article (which naturally need apply universally, not merely to overworked, Midwestern, graduate students). He talks about letting go of fear, assumptions, distractions, resistance, and busyness - those self-defeating habits we could all do less of. They seemed poignantly relevant to me at this time.

I think I try to keep myself busy out of fear much of the time and a desire to feel/appear important somehow. I think if I engage in all these activities people will notice how valuable I am and if I don't people will overlook or ignore me. When I get overloaded I look for distractions, little tasks that make me feel like I'm in control of my life, but don't actually accomplish anything worthwhile. I can be very stubborn and I've been working for years to let go of the resistance I feel during critique - but as Lesser points out, I can turn that 'limiting belief' into an 'open-ended belief' - yet I am learning and making progress.

Meis van der Rohe, that famous Modernist master (who I generally blame, fairly or not, for almost single-handedly ruining fifty-years worth of architecture) infamously proclaimed "Less is More," to which Venturi (that know-it-all, blowhard who cloaks ugliness with fancy esoteric rhetoric) decried "Less is a Bore." However, beyond this architectural tete-a-tete I am finding that by doing less, I can actually do more, and feel less stressed about the entire thing.

But I'm still working on the whole concept of No.

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