Embracing Complexity for a Simpler Life

Toby Hazlewood

You can't have pleasure without pain

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Success and struggle

Risk and reward.

Joy and Sorrow.

Life is made up of a series of often-conflicting experiences and emotions.

Each feeds off and balances out its opposite - we can't experience reward without taking risk.

When we have one, we often pursue the other and without one, the other is meaningless - we can't know joy if we've not experienced sorrow.

They are mutually dependent and often we have to go through one of them to achieve the other - we experience and manage pain so we might eventually experience pleasure.

This duality is built into life - if we want one thing, we have to be willing to embrace its opposite; they come to us as hand-in-glove. Duality as a concept is as old as time, stretching back roots in eastern philosophy over thousands of years.

Reaching this understanding has helped me to realise that we need to embrace both simplicity and complexity in equal measure as we make our path in life.

The Simple Life

The more I learned, the more I realised that for many years I had been caught in the trap of accumulation.

Parkinson’s Law saw to it that my expenditure expanded to consume my income, and as I progressed through my career, as my income increased, I treated that as a licence to accumulate more material possessions. I bought the bigger house, fancier car and the so-called trappings of success, but these returned little long-term happiness.

I quickly came to rely on the extra income but didn’t feel wealthier. I felt no-more financially secure and lacked true fulfilment. The hungry-ghost within me remained unsatisfied.

I felt obliged to chase more money and then the cycle would continue.

Can you see the problem starting to emerge here?

The benefits of simplicity have become evident to me, bizarrely as I explore the habits, tactics and strategies of the rich and successful, interlaced with the philosophies of stoicism. Don’t think for a minute that I’ve lost my appreciation for the ‘stuff’ and for materialism in some form - as problematic as this can be.

I like the ‘stuff’.

I still aspire to wealth and to being genuinely able to purchase the things I want and need, and to fund the experiences that myself and my family enjoy - vacations, a comfortable home and so-on.

The greatest realisation is that happiness and fulfilment are not attached to the attainment of those things. As important is to embrace the mind-set that happiness can be mine with or without the stuff; it all comes from within.

First and foremost it comes from truly appreciating what you already have.

The Attitude of Gratitude

Striving for simplicity means being grateful for each of the essential things you have as the foundational building blocks of your life. When you're grateful, each possession you have and everything that you do, has its place and plays a part in your happiness. A study from Berkeley shares the many effects of gratitude that can extend to effectively rewiring your brain to shape how you experience life.

The difference between this philosophy and that based purely on accumulation of more, is that this one has a very real and attainable end-point.

It is possible to be very happy with very little, whereas the accumulator is never satisfied; their end-point is always tied to some unattainable point, or thing in the future. The illusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow will make them happy if they can just get hold of it.

Followers of both philosophies may be driven to achieve the material possessions, the luxury goods and the first-class experiences. When you’re truly grateful for what you have, and your happiness does not depend on the these things, when you can take them or leave them, accumulate them but know that losing them would not signal the end of life as you know it, then a sense of balance is achieved.

“He has the most who is most content with the least” - Diogenes

While there is a lot to be said for simplicity, there are always reasons why not every aspect of life can, or should be expected to be simple. If we want to achieve our dreams and to grow, it's inevitable that we'll encounter complexity - it's unavoidable and it shouldn't be feared or avoided either.

Keep it Simple, Stupid

The best example that many will be familiar with, is the efforts that many make to achieve success and gain riches.

Too often, we buy into the notion that success comes quickly, easily and without a great deal of hard work. By definition, get rich quick schemes imply simplicity. Notwithstanding that there is really no-such thing as a quick and easy route to riches, it is the promise of a quick and easy fix that draws people in to such ideas.

The 20-something Internet Entrepreneurs who cry out for just a few moments of our attention via YouTube will of course focus on the bits that can be done easily, chastising those who are caught in an outmoded way of working life, but it’s mostly a subterfuge of smoke and mirrors.

We’re reminded that social media profiles can be established in minutes, online selling can be up and running with minimal effort or overhead and that the world is full of low-cost outsourcers who can help us to scale our fledgling businesses in a matter of weeks. It's never that easy!

What’s not apparent until you’re in the midst of growing your venture that there’s a myriad of complex and time-consuming activity, strategizing and personal-motivation that’s required to make the systems work.

Instead of being demoralised by this fact (and I believe it is a fact), I’m proposing that the route to the returns and the prospect of a simple but successful life is to embrace the complexity.

We need to embrace the challenge, throw ourselves into the many tasks, the diverse activities and to ride-out the highs and lows as we gradually work towards our goals.

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Embrace the complexity

Along the way there’ll be those who question why you’re doing what you’re doing, devoting 80+ hours per week to escape a 40 hour per week job. They’ll question why you’re doing it, why don’t you go easy on yourself, wouldn’t you be happier doing what they’re doing?

Embrace this as part of the complexity. They’re projecting their own insecurities on you and are fearful that they’re missing out on some knowledge, and trying to dull down your resolve in just the same way they offer a dieter a slice of cake to ease their conscience in having one themselves.

There’ll be inconvenience, uncertainty and outright hardship that you need to embrace;

  • The early starts to allow you to work at your project before starting the day-job
  • The weekends sacrificed to attend training, mentoring and mastermind sessions
  • The money invested in an uncertain future that takes you further into the red before the eventual, hopeful rebound up into the black
  • The consternation from friends and family who lose out on time with you now in the hope of more quality time later
  • Defaulting to action and productive use of free time rather than just chilling-out
  • The forced and voluntary discomfort of seeking accountability from the coaches and mentors who push you forwards in-spite of the resistance you may put up
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult” - Seneca

Complexity as a route to simplicity

Complexity is innate when you force yourself to extend, grow and become a different version of yourself; it can be uncomfortable to tackle your shortcomings, to confront the self-limiting beliefs that have been accumulated over years and years. The simple option is to live with these, complaining to those who’ll listen about what a bum-deal you are getting on a daily basis. The solution involves embracing the complexity, expecting, managing and dealing with the emotions that are thrown up.

Embracing the complexity associated with personal development and the quest for success demands courage. It requires tenacity and it relies upon us taking bold steps forwards, often into the unknown.

Consistently and persistently stepping into the void of complexity is the fast-track, the only-track to the simple life of success.

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