Compulsion to constantly ‘add’ usually ends up backfiring


Don’t you love it when life gives you little reminders of things that you know, but, for some reason, continue to forget?

For instance, I’ve been trying to prepare my music groups for concerts the past several weeks. And, with one of them, I was trying to work in six fairly challenging pieces of music. But last week, in what was actually a moment of frustration, I cut the list down to four.

Voila! The group came together around these four pieces of music, and the concert came off great ... if I do say so myself.

This little reminder about “Addition by Subtraction” is brought to you by the School of Life Lessons and the letter “Duh.”

Let me see if this sounds familiar: I spend way too much of my life chasing the next thing, trying to get in one more something, and it causes a lot of unnecessary stress.

In the case of the concert, I was trying to squeeze in extra songs that I thought my students would enjoy, but which we really didn’t have enough time to prepare properly.

This afternoon, I looked down at my watch and said “I have five minutes — I think I can get the dinner started,” which, in turn, made me late for my next lesson, which made me late for the next thing, and so on ...

I once was working with a group that had enormous talent and unrealized potential, but it also had a few destructive personalities in it. In my desire to maximize that potential, I allowed those destructive personalities to stay in the group; in time, those personalities did more harm to the group than the talent ever would have done good.

My compulsion to constantly “add” usually ends up backfiring.

My parents always had a great perspective on this. We never, it seems, simply “lived within our means;” they always lived within their resources, including their time and their energies.

We had a very nice house, but it was probably still not as much as they could have afforded; I never remember my parents buying a brand new car; and when they came home from work, with the exception of church activities, they were home to be parents. It seemed so simple, and yet we were a very happy family.

We have a hard time keeping things simple in this day and age.

We’re told “you can have it all,” and so we really try to have it all. But, by every measure, we’re not any happier having it all.

People who remember to subtract the unnecessary have lives that may not look like what we dream for ourselves all the time, but they also don’t have the constant scowl on their faces, the rushed pace to their gait, or the obsessive need to check in with their daytimers and text messages.

Maybe, start looking at life like you’re sculpting from a block of granite.

Chip away, chisel down all the stuff that’s in the way of your ‘perfect life,’ whether it’s “friends,” expenses, or habits, and start to imagine what is essential, and leave only that much.

See if somewhere on the other side of subtraction is a happier life.


Michael Alcorn is a music teacher and fitness instructor who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. He graduated from Alameda High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder.

michale alcorn


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