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The Art of Pruning

“In order to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all the unimportant opportunities.” – from The Apple Marketing Philosophy (1977)

In a world where there are more and more places to put our attention, pruning our lives so that we can nurture what needs to be nurtured can be challenging. What do we say no to? How do we know when living outside of ourselves, chasing a goal or opening to every possibility available is beneficial and truly generative for us? For those of us who rebel against constriction and constraint, placing limits or bounds on our possibilities is something we deem foolish. (And, yet, beyond our control, COVID has placed constraints on our lives in a multitude of ways, limiting travel, slowing us down, and providing heaps of added stressors to limit our bandwidth and energy.) Often what keeps us going in rebellion and ambition is what we need to turn around and face. 

Much like the art of growing a bonsai, we can know what is our work to do once we sink into our lives long enough to finally do the work of growing up. (This isn’t as drab as it sounds, however, it does require facing the unresolved parts of ourselves so that we can move into and through our lives with a sense of wholeness.) Pruning our lives in this way removes superfluous or unwanted parts especially to increase fruitfulness and growth.

In this podcast conversation, Nathan Lustig, Managing Partner at Magma Ventures, discovers a pattern of his is to keep on moving and keep his bags packed. Even during COVID, while tucked away in a cabin with his parents in northern Wisconsin, Nathan finds his once frenetic international travel schedule jamming his calendar slots, this time sans travel. Even while grounded, his travel pack remains partially unpacked right where he left it. In his attempt to find more time and space, meetings filled his days. He wonders with Jerry about why that might be happening.

“The value of time, and how we experience it, depends on how we use it: how we feel about our lives — at the time,” writes British author Richard Koch in his book Living The 80/20 Way: Work Less, Worry Less, Succeed More, Enjoy More.

What is my work to do? This is a question very much alive at the Reboot offices. We see it in our own work as a company. We ask it in our roles within the organization. It’s a question that has helped shape what it is that we do around here internally and externally. In turn, our work gets tighter and more focused, and the company gets stronger. Of the many possibilities and directions we could go, we act as if we’re tending a bonsai tree.

It’s a pertinent question to bring to the output planning, products, and services at your company. “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on,” asserted Steve Jobs. “But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”

‘What is my work to do?’ is a question we bring up with our clients in the practical sense of what their role is as they scale. This keeps one focused on the role of the CEO, out of the weeds, and out of the tasks that fall into the job descriptions of others on the team. For founder CEOs who have been with the company since the beginning, this is a question of refinement to ask and keep asking as they continue ‘to build the machine that builds the machine’ (the machine being their company). 

It’s a question that can make a leader face certain beliefs and insecurities they may hold, such as “If I’m not doing all the things, how will anything get done? What will I be doing? Will the company need me? How can I trust my team to follow through?” For those of us who find self-worth in being busy and crossing things off the to-do list, this line of inquiry can be insightful to where their growth edge as a leader is.

It’s a question we ask intrapersonally as well: What is my job to do (in this situation, right now in my life, here in my heart)? In this arena, such a line of inquiry nudges at edges of transformation that are underway inside of us. We find ourselves facing the ways in which we can lean into how and where we can do the work of finally growing up. 

What happens when we stand still and tend to the fire in our hair? What are we afraid of if we slow down into our own lives? What might we have to feel then, there at that slower pace? 

As Jerry notes in Reboot, the art of growing up begins not when we thrust ourselves out into the world at an intrepid and productive rate, but rather when we turn to face what we might be running from. When we’re willing to see not only where we might be stuck, but be ready to move beyond that into, perhaps another more clear, version of ourselves. The old hurts, our core wounds, and other unconscious layers that may be running our lives if not called out, noticed, and reclaimed back into our conscious awareness. 

As James Hollis writes in his latest book, Living Between Worlds: Finding Personal Resilience in Changing Times, that the second half of our lives being any moment that makes us step back and begin the radical reassessment of our lives to date. “The first half of our lives is pretty much a large but necessary mistake as we enter the world thinking we know who we are, what we want, and what is important to devote ourselves to,” he writes. “Some of those choices are quite appropriate and bring enduring meaning to us, […] other choices are driven by our response to external pressures or our “stories.” And thus we bumble into and through life, but somewhere along the way, the psyche keeps knocking on the floorboard of our flimsily constructed psychic dwellings and gets our attention. Then, hopefully, we have acquired enough ego strength to bear looking at the topography of our lives, and for sure, we will have accumulated much to observe by then.”

He continues: “…this shift in our center of gravity begins by asking less what happened to me than another question: What wants to enter the world through me? That we might be bearers of new life into this world is the only antidote to the old world and its “stories.””

We each have our own path when it comes to the work that is ours to do to finish the work of growing up–it’s different for everybody. This is the work of a lifetime framed by the pruning shears of a good question: What is my work to do?


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