“Life is easy. It’s people who make it complicated”

I happened to be eating in a corporate lunchroom today during a spirited conversation between two young women at the next table. They were complaining about the inanities of daily office life, and one of the woman said, “Life is easy. It’s people who make it complicated!” The phrase jumped out at me, causing me to stop eating (a significant feat, but that’s another story). A gem, I thought, worthy of its own Whitman’s sampler.

I believe there’s much merit to this sentiment. We live in a world of rules, laws, procedures, protocols, statutes, regulations, codicils, blueprints, schematics and instructions. We are so busy defining, we rarely are just “being.” Ah, the simple life.

Yearning for the simple life makes me wax nostalgic. I can remember a much simpler time, when I was a small child. Sure, childhood was a simpler time for everyone, but I mean the times I grew up in, from the late 1950’s to the mid 1960’s. Back then, most of our games did not require power, but merely imagination and a willingness to get dirty. We played mostly outdoors, games like hide and seek, Ringalevio, stickball and “off the wall,” where you’d throw a twenty-five cent Spalding rubber ball (or a Pensy-Pinky, if you only had a dime) against the side of a building. None of our games required a computer processor — back then, a computer was a huge machine that took up a room. If it rained, we played board games indoors, or made up our own games.

There were no cell phones, either. When you went out, you’d let your parents know the general vicinity you’d be playing in, at the most. If something were urgent enough, they’d come and find you, or send another kid to find you. You’d carry a dime in case you needed to make an emergency phone call from a pay phone (those phones didn’t even have a dial tone without paying first, although secretly, if you jiggled the hook a bunch of times, an operator would come on). All phones were owned by one company, and you never owned them; you rented them. A family would share one phone, although you might have an extension phone, so you could yell, “I GOT IT!” when you were on the phone, so anyone else in your house might hang up. Long distance calls were expensive, and rare. They were also a big deal. “I’m on long distance!” A long-distance phone call trumped most everything in importance. And since the other person was paying, you’d never say “I’ll call you back” — you’d drop what you were doing to take this call. A long-distance call from anyone was right up there in importance with “The president is on the phone!”

Television was a black and white box that got channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 13. That’s it! There was no cable, and no channel was on for even 24 hours. Channel 2, the flagship CBS station, was on 22 or 23 hours a day, but not 24. One by one, each night, the stations would sign off the air with a statement about their license, followed by the national anthem, then a test pattern. Finally, just static. Hardly anyone had an FM radio back then, so the most you had to entertain yourself with late at night might be a transistor radio. Of course, that wouldn’t be available anyway to a small child… because that child would be sleeping by then.

You’d play all day, and if you hurt yourself, you wouldn’t call a lawyer. You’d call your mother, who would “kiss the boo boo,” put some Neosporin (or that weird red stuff) and a Band-Aid on it, and make it all better. If it were serious enough, you’d call the family doctor, a kindly older man. If he were very concerned, he’d make a house call. A house call!

As my head is clearing from all this nostalgia, I’m thinking, what can I do to make life simpler? What steps will I take this week? In fact, for those of you who are feeling that indeed, we’re making life too complicated, I invite you to make this into a coaching assignment:

  1. Write down five to ten things in your life that seem complicated and take up more time than you want to spend.
  2. For each thing, break it down. What’s complicated about it? What ways can you simplify it? Is there anything you can do to make it fun?

Of course… don’t make this complicated! Keep it simple, smarty! Have fun with it.