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The Minimalists
The Minimalists are Emmy-nominated Netflix stars and New York Times–bestselling authors Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus. Alongside their podcast cohost, T.K. Coleman, this simple-living trio helps millions of people eliminate clutter and live meaningfully with less. Learn More.

An Apology and the Need to Say No

An Apology

My sincerest apologies to the folks who attended our Washington, DC, event last month: it was the first show I’ve missed in the seven years we’ve been touring as The Minimalists.

On the day of that event, I was suffering from the effects of a nasty virus—likely contracted from my child or caught while dishing out hundreds of free hugs—and I had to get an emergency IV drip. There was no way I could’ve made it to the theater that night, let alone the main stage, but thankfully Ryan and the rest of the team held down the fort in my absence.

After being bedridden with a wicked fever for two days, I mustered what little strength I could to make it to our subsequent events in Atlanta and Tampa, albeit in a diminished capacity. Although my health has been improving slowly since those events, I’ve still been feeling ill the past three weeks, and this illness has taught me a lot about pushing past my limits.

The Need to Say No

I often find comfort in my discomfort zone—that’s the place from which we grow. But when I stretch too far, my health suffers, and the result isn’t good for anyone—my audience, my family, my friends, and I all suffer.

The last three weeks have given me time to scrutinize my grueling schedule, and I realized something unfortunate: over the past year, my life has gradually become busy. Ugh! There isn’t a more vulgar four-letter word in the English language.

Of course, it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, I’ve been good at avoiding busyness since I left the corporate world seven years ago. But every time I say yes to something, I’m indirectly saying no to something else. And this year is the first time since my corporate days I’ve said yes too much.

Within the last twelve months, we released our documentary on Netflix, started working on two new film projects, moved our families to Los Angeles, began building a podcast and film studio, produced our first physical good, wrote dozens of essays, recorded more than 60 podcast episodes, interviewed with more than 100 media outlets, and embarked on a 50-city international tour.

On their own, these are all worthwhile endeavors. But crammed into one year, it’s too much—especially considering I’ve been dealing with C. Diff, mercury poisoning, multiple chemical sensitivities, and daily physical therapy for my back. I’m simply not as durable as I like to pretend.

You see, sometimes when I say yes to something that’s seemingly “important,” I’m inadvertently saying no to something else that’s even more important: health, relationships, creativity. Which means that, going forward, I must do a better job saying no to anything that isn’t a true priority—even the good stuff. So I’m scaling back in the following ways.

Fewer projects. I’m saying yes to only one major project at a time. The next project we’ll be working on as The Minimalists is a new film that’s one part documentary, one part TED Talk, and one part stand-up special. All other new projects will simmer on the back burner until this one is complete.

Back to basics. The creative work that fuels me the most is writing and podcasting. So, in the vein of “fewer projects,” these creative outlets—mixed with our new film project—will receive the bulk of my attention in 2018. I think of this trio of creativity as a three-legged table: each leg is a necessary part of our creative output, and they each play an equal role in helping us communicate with our audience effectively. The table is sturdy with three legs—adding more seems superfluous.

Reduced social media. As an experiment, we will spend January away from social media. We’re confident it will help us determine how to better use these platforms going forward. I’ll definitely write an essay about the experience once it’s over.

Less growth. Through a combination of luck and hard work, we’ve been fortunate to reach a large audience with our work, but I’m no longer interested in “scaling up.” Sure, I want our message to reach as many eyes and ears as possible, but I believe the best way to do this isn’t via the traditional tropes of “content generation”; rather, I want to focus on meaningful creations, without worrying about what will “resonate” or “go viral”—and certainly without endlessly promoting our “brand.”

Promoless. I listen to a lot of podcasts, I see a lot of billboards, and I even notice it encroaching upon my own work: there’s too much “branding” going on these days. No, there aren’t any advertisements on our website or podcast, but even I am guilty of too much self-promotion that gets in the way of my own creations. Perhaps Derek Sivers said it best: putting ads in your work is like putting a Coke machine in a monastery. I’m beginning to feel the same about all the shameless self-promotion that’s going on these days, including my own. Tweets and photos and status updates. It’s solipsism run amuck. And I’m pledging to remove the Coke machine from the monastery immediately so you can better enjoy what I’m creating without the promotional eyesores. Yes, I’ll occasionally talk about what I’m working on—including events, books, and projects—but I won’t let it get in the way of what I’m creating. If anything, promotion should be similar to the end credits of a film, not the main plot.

Fewer interviews. From every major newspaper, radio program, and TV show to the tiniest podcasts, Ryan and I have probably accepted a thousand interviews over the last half-decade, and I’ve said everything I need to say to the media. So, unless you’re Joe Rogan, don’t be surprised if I say no to your interview request next year. Don’t worry, it’s not you—it’s me. As a policy, I have to say no, so I can say yes to my life.

Fewer events. Our Less Is Now tour is finally coming to an end, and truth be told, touring is probably the straw that broke my back this year. It pains me to say this because I absolutely love our live events. But nonstop touring is challenging. Thankfully, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. This weekend Ryan & I will end our year with just two stops in Detroit and Milwaukee. Then, in January, we have only one charity event in Las Vegas (profits go to the Las Vegas Victims Fund). Finally, in March 2018, after a two-month break, we’re going to Australia and New Zealand to end the tour. And then we’re finished for a while. Yes, we’re honoring these commitments, and I’m truly excited to see you on the road, but then we’re saying no to new events for a while because 50 events in one year is too much. Too much for me, at least (Ryan is far more durable than I am). So, after a long break next year, we’ll determine what’s appropriate going forward. Whatever the number is, it’ll be considerably less than our current pace. Right now, I’m thinking maybe a couple live events per quarter—maybe fewer, maybe none. We’ll see.

Less travel. I’ve been on nearly a hundred flights this year, which is taxing on my body. By doing fewer tour stops and fewer speaking gigs next year, I’ll reduce the majority of my travel, but the cold truth is I don’t enjoy traveling. I have peripatetic friends who live for driving to the next city, flying to the next country, visiting as many new places as possible. That ain’t me. I don’t like flights or long car rides, and it’s difficult for me to sleep on the road. So I plan on reducing my globetrotting by 80% next year, which, paradoxically, might help me enjoy my limited travels a bit more.