Less Is More

The first time I really thought about this expression was in a parenting workshop led by author and educator, Nancy Samalin. Nancy implored us to say and do “less” for our children, in turn allowing them to take responsibility and do more for themselves.  I have been trying to practice this parenting philosophy for several years, but it remains an ongoing challenge.

When my youngest left for college last fall, I had no choice but to do less, simply because neither child was living at home with me. This turned out to be a blessing for all of us.   Both children have matured and have become more independent. They have forged new friendships, excelled in their coursework, become involved in their college communities and each has secured a summer job.  We still talk regularly, and they occasionally seek my advice (and I am always happy to oblige,) but they are living their lives far away (one in California, the other in Denmark) and quite successfully without me. By doing less for my children, I have sent them a clear message that I trust them to make their own choices and decisions—which has empowered them both to take charge of their lives.

Since I have found the “less is more” philosophy so inspiring in the realm of parenting, I considered how it might apply to other aspects of my life. Thus far, I have found it to be quite effective.  Here are some observations…

Whether conversing with friends, acquaintances, family members or co-workers, I am trying to say less and listen more. I find myself really hearing people instead of focusing on my own agenda. And, I notice that when my words are more succinct, they come across as more thoughtful and impactful, and I feel others listening more intently. The overall quality of my communications has improved.

As a consummate people pleaser, I was always someone who couldn’t ‘say no.’ My parents nicknamed me “the joiner-inner,” as I became involved in every activity that came my way. Extra work projects, charity events, school committees and boards, sports activities, book clubs—you name it, I was either organizing or at least involved. I now realize that it is OK to say no and let others do the heavy lifting. Especially if the things I pass on are not my priorities. And, being involved in fewer activities and projects frees me up, both physically and mentally, to focus on things that really matter. I have chosen quality over quantity… and have discovered that the simple, basic pleasures of life can be the most rewarding!

Likewise, I have made a similar transition with my friendships, tightening my circle of friends to include those who love and support me unconditionally. I am far more joyful spending time with people who help me to be my best self, and who share my “glass half full” approach to life.  With fewer, yet closer, friends, I can really give more to each. My relationships are far more fulfilling as a result.

The final example relates to golf. As a competitive tennis player, when I first started as a new golfer my initial instinct was to swing the golf club as hard as I could to literally “power” the ball forward. But, unlike the tennis stroke, the golf swing is counter-intuitive. The harder one swings, the less likely one is to actually hit the ball. Applying the “less is more” approach to golf, I discovered that if I swing easy, with a calm, even tempo, the ball actually travels in the air towards its intended target. I still marvel every time this happens! (A clear indication that I have yet to master the elusive golf swing.)

Next challenge is to apply the “less is more” approach to my blog writing, so I can communicate effectively in fewer words!

The Happiest Place (and daughter) on Earth

My husband and I just returned from visiting our daughter in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she is studying for the semester. Before we left, we had gathered from frequent text messages, video chats and Facebook posts that she was having the time of her life—embarking on new travel adventures, assimilating to a vastly different culture and learning to deal with unfamiliar challenges.

Nevertheless, we were unprepared for the adult who greeted us at our hotel, nearly three months to the day since she had left. Her face lit up with a huge smile, and a frenetic excitement permeated her very being. She gave us each a huge hug and promptly asked: “Are you guys tired after your flight, or are you ready to see Copenhagen?”

Without hesitation, we chose the latter. If our daughter was ready to show us her city, we were ready too. Sleep would have to wait. As she led us adroitly through the winding, cobblestone streets, it struck me that this was the first time in all our years of traveling as a family that I had not planned and organized the trip. I had not even consulted a Copenhagen guidebook. I realized that my husband and I would be following—instead of leading— her for the first time in our lives.

For the next three days and nights, our private guide led us on an exceptional, and very personal, inside tour of Copenhagen. Highlights included climbing a narrow spiral stairway to the top of Church of our Savior with panoramic city views… lunching at her regular café, Paludan, housed in an old library…. Bicycling through the city and learning its unique history (an excursion our daughter had booked with a crazy Dane as our leader)… jumping on in-ground trampolines in a local park… strolling through Nyhavn, the picturesque harbor filled with colorful houses and bustling cafes… visiting Christiana, a local hippie enclave where marijuana is legal (and prevalent)… sampling dozens of local and international eats off the food trucks at Copenhagen’s Street Food market… discovering the magic of the Tivoli Gardens amusement park…

Each day, we travelled several miles by foot, bicycle and metro, our every move expertly led by our knowledgeable guide, who also made all of our dinner and brunch reservations, complete with menu suggestions gleaned from friends. She even taught us a few Danish words like Hej (“hello”) and Tak (“thanks!”)

Yes, we stayed in a nice hotel and dined in a couple of the finest restaurants in town, but the defining moments of this journey were not spent in fancy hotels and 5-star restaurants. They focused on exploring a magnificent, new place through the eyes of our daughter and marveling at her ability to navigate a foreign city with ease, independence and supreme confidence. As parents, nothing could have made us prouder than observing the young woman our daughter has grown into during these three months abroad. It was extremely gratifying to be able to share in her happiness and contentment with the new life she has built for herself.

Copenhagen is known as the “Happiest Place on Earth.” Our exceedingly happy girl, who embraces life fully each and every day and whose favorite motto is YOLO (you only live once,) could not have chosen a more fitting location for her junior year abroad experience and transition into adulthood.

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