We Want A Shrubbery

In the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, King Arthur and his band are blocked by the dreaded Knights Who Say “Ni!” in an enchanted forest. “We want a shrubbery,” demands the giant Knight, adding, “One that looks nice…and not too expensive.” King Arthur delivers a “shrubbery” after a short (hilarious) quest, but the Knight demands another. He specifies it must be “only slightly higher, so we get the two-level effect with a little path running down the middle.”

I spent some time this weekend doing what many of you have probably been doing recently—trimming trees and bushes in my yard. Some of the required pruning was to remedy the damage wrought by the 2020 Ice Pandemic but most was to bring the flora (plants of a particular region, habitat, or geological period) into conformity with my wife’s ideal.

I have always found it interesting that we expend so much time and energy fighting to keep natural elements from existing in their natural form. We plant grass and then spend, on average, over $90 per year for every man, woman, and child in America to cut it. We plant trees and bushes, or shrubbery, and then trim them and shape them to keep them within the boundaries we arbitrarily set. In all, Americans create 32.9 million tons of yard waste per year that ends up in composting facilities and landfills.

As I was cutting branches and raking up leaves, I was thinking about other areas in my life that I unnecessarily create extra work for myself. Like my yard, I find myself planting things in my life that then require time and energy to keep them from getting overgrown. In each case, I find that I have chosen to add something that will invariably grow and take up more space, resources, and time than I perhaps wanted to commit.

“The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Possessions pack a one-two punch when it comes to taking over our lives. First, we trade our time for money, then we trade our money for things, and then we spend more money and time taking care of the things we just bought. As Tyler Durden says in Fight Club, “Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy (stuff) we don’t need.”

While there is nothing wrong with owning things, it is pretty common for our possessions to end up controlling us by demanding our time and resources. I need to take time to think about my desires and the consequences of my acquisitions. “If you don’t know what you want, you end up with a lot you don’t.” (also Fight Club)

“Overcommit: transitive verb: to commit excessively: such as; a: to obligate (someone, such as oneself) beyond the ability for fulfillment; b: to allocate (resources) in excess of the capacity for replenishment.”

Merriam-Webster.com

A new study of 1,353 people, from researchers at VitalSmarts, reveals 3 out of 5 have agreed to accomplish more than they can actually do in the time they have available. Another 1 in 5 say they have reached their limit and can’t possibly commit to more. In our current culture, this is as real a pandemic as COVID. We live in a constantly “on” and continually connected world where we are always under pressure to say “yes.” The study above identified several reasons for this epidemic. 

  • 73% of those surveyed have a desire to be helpful, accommodating, and polite.
  • 56% just tend to jump in and fix problems even when the problems aren’t theirs.
  • 39% have ambiguous limits about how much to commit to.
  • At least 33% simply have an inability to say “no” altogether this leads to stress, worry and anxiety, and a sense of being overwhelmed and defeated.

Being a person who makes and keeps commitments is good. I need to get honest and realistic with myself and do a commitment audit, deciding what I can accomplish and what I can’t. Then going forward, I need to develop clear boundaries and learn to say “no” to the many good things so I can say “yes” to the few great things.

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.”

Brené Brown

Relationships are vital to our health and wellbeing, but the wrong ones can harm us and sap our time and attention. While statistics are not easy to come by, it is estimated that 80% of people have experienced or are experiencing an abusive relationship. Unhealthy relationships are like the ice storm we just experienced, causing damage that isolates us and then requires heavy expenditures of time and energy to recover from.

I need to have the courage to make it clear what works for me and what does not with the compassion to assume people are doing their best. When people violate my boundaries, I need to hold them accountable, and if it continues, have the self-respect to end the relationship. This allows me to steer clear of resentment and live with integrity.

It’s not likely that I will stop trying to contain and control nature. I do like my shrubbery after all. I do think that I can do more to reduce the things that consume my resources yet do not add meaning or fulfillment to my life. Having a healthy self-awareness gives me the tools to say “no” to things, commitments and people who will hold me back and “own” me, freeing me to say “yes” to things that serve others and lead to my best life. A life that not only “looks nice”, but truly is. A life that is “not too expensive”, but rather yields a significant return. That life is worthy of a king, and it is The Kimray Way.

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