Less is more: Why it pays to focus on the really important things in life
Guest article by Florian Hornig
In the early 2010s, on a beautiful sunny day in May in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district, an unhappy guy in his early 30s is sitting in a café enjoying his coffee while gazing dreamily into the sun.
He has a well-paid job at one of the most renowned business schools in the world and lives in a 100-square-metre, renovated old flat on the top floor with a sauna in the bathroom, a fireplace in the living room and a terrace with a view over Berlin. But despite all this luxury, he feels that something is missing, but he can't put his finger on what it is.
What he knows for sure are the things he no longer wants:
- Work that only serves to finance a flat he only goes to sleep in.
- Buying suits that he only wears to the office
- Having to buy things on the weekend to compensate for the exhausting week
- Commuting an hour across Berlin twice a day
- Waiting for the weekend as early as Monday and then watching documentaries about the world
- Looking at the same white woodchip wallpaper every day
- Looking forward to the lunch break every day just to be able to go out in the sunshine
- Constantly counting holidays and dreaming of longer trips
I was that type, and my underlying frustration became the need for fundamental change. I have been working as a coach since 2009 and initially focused on career coaching before I realised that much deeper issues are usually crucial for our own satisfaction.
What really drives us is not what we do, but why and for what we do it. One question I have been asking myself and my clients ever since is: Who or even better HOW do I want to be once? How do I want to remain in the memories of the people who knew me?
"Most of the time, much deeper questions are crucial for our own satisfaction."
It was then that I developed my first idea of what I actually really wanted - something I had carried inside me since childhood. I wanted to travel around the world, gather experiences and live stories that I could share with others, to help others find and walk their own path through my experiences. My favourite thing was to travel around the world on a sailboat, preferably taking others with me. But I thought I had to achieve something first before I could allow myself these dreams.
But then I asked myself, "What if I didn't strive for a career, house, family, success and wealth first, and then (hopefully) do what I've always wanted to do, but strive for it right away?"
This idea stuck with me. Suddenly I was questioning everything to find out if it would support or hinder me on my new path.
"Everything I need to live and work fits in my backpack."
And if I did know what I really wanted, why didn't I "just" put it into practice? Little by little I realised that there was not something missing in my life, but on the contrary, there was already too much. Too many things, tasks, obligations, thoughts and beliefs that were standing in my way.
I started to part with ballast and sold or gave away about 90 per cent of my stuff, only to realise that I didn't really need 90 per cent of what was left either.
Since then, everything I need for life and work fits into my backpack - often even in hand luggage size. This has made me much more flexible and allows me to work from anywhere. I travel more often and stay a few days longer, working on the road, and even in Berlin I now often avoid the office. Instead, I work in a café or the park.
"Taking different paths and setting new priorities can cause incomprehension in your immediate environment."
After getting rid of so much ballast, I began to question many of my previous habits and beliefs. And this made me a better coach at the same time. By not clinging to my clients' beliefs or my own, I was much better able than before to support them in finding new paths of their own and discovering possibilities where there seemed to be none before.
It was also at this time that the name of my coaching business was found: "Simplicity Of Happiness". Because the secret of happiness is not based on the accumulation of things, but on the opposite: letting go of everything that stands in the way of one's own happiness.
Since 2014, I no longer have an office job and work 100 per cent remotely. In the last few years I have set up projects in the Sahara, Zanzibar, Kilimanjaro and the Alps while establishing my coaching business. I spent a whole year travelling in a camper van, a winter in a ski resort and a year living in Zanzibar.
Taking different paths and setting new priorities can cause incomprehension in one's immediate environment. People who have been with you for years often can't cope with change and accuse you of selfishness in an attempt to bring you back into the norm. But you can't please everyone, and the most important person to please is yourself.
"The hardest thing for me in new ways is to develop and maintain a work routine."
Two strategies have helped me and I recommend them again and again:
- Letting go
- Letting things be
Let go of things that hold you back, let go of beliefs that limit you, let go of people that hold you back. At the same time, let others be who they want to be. Let your parents, siblings and friends be who they are. Let them make their own decisions, even if they are not yours.
For me, the most difficult thing about new ways is to develop and maintain a certain work routine. When the environment changes quickly and continuously, it can quickly become overwhelming to start the day without knowing what to do first. That's why it helps to establish habits like a morning routine, work routine or exercise routine that you can maintain no matter where you are. The mind is already busy enough adjusting to the new environment - so it helps not to have to think about starting the day as well.
My hard-learned flexibility and adapted routines were challenged and put to the test, especially during the pandemic. Routines had secretly developed again that were not helpful, and I once again had the opportunity to question them, throw them overboard and develop new ones.
It took me a few months to realise that I had a great opportunity. The way of working that had become the norm for me suddenly became everyday and people had a much greater acceptance of coaching via video conferencing.
I have now been living on a sailboat in the Mediterranean for a year and a half and mostly work from here when I am not on Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
If you are also tempted to question the expectations placed on you and go your own way, my tip is to use five questions as a guide:
- What is your North Star? What would you like to have been like?
- What can you part with? What is standing in your way?
- For things: Ask yourself if you have used them in the last six months or if you really plan to use them in the next three months (so you have all seasons covered). If not, put it in the basement and pass it on after six months.
- For habits: Make a list of "one hundred percent yes", "maybe" and "one hundred percent no". Set aside "maybe" and "one hundred percent no" and focus on the "one hundred percent yes".
- Which people want to keep you in old roles? Let them have their opinion, let them express their wishes - they don't have to be yours.
Last but not least: What is the smallest step in the direction you want to go that you can take today? Take it!
I sincerely wish you success in being the person you want to be. If you need help, please contact me.