06/09/2014 04:50 pm ET Updated Aug 09, 2014

Speak Softly & Carry a Big Stick : The Theory of Essentialism

Speak Softly & Carry a Big Stick is a three-article series highlighting the different soft skills millennials should incorporate into their professional depository while in school or in the workplace. Talk is cheap, but actions and habits exemplify the productive work ethic employers look for in their hiring processes.


Entering college is a formative experience filled with questions and expectations. What will my social scene look like? How do I get on the good side of my professors? What will my major be? In all honesty, these are questions that are meant to be answered as you progress through your collegiate career. And it is best to let your narrative develop from a clean slate. But with a clean slate comes numerous opportunities to decorate your resume and to structure your professional experience, hence the necessity of maintaining an essentialist mindset.

Upon my first stride on campus, prospective friends, mentors and professors bombarded me with seemingly beneficial advice like: join this club, apply to that program, help with this initiative, and lead that cause. Like any other student, my eyes bulged at these favorable opportunities and I quickly became the "Yes!" man eager to get my foot into every door. But I certainly did not anticipate the price accompanying these resume boosters: the price of time and talent (and sometimes money). When I overcommitted my schedule, I realized that I had less time and talent to afford to my actual schoolwork and my other formative professional experiences. And here is where essentialism should have emerged into the fold, the disciplined pursuit of less.

Greg McKeown, an Oxford Law student turned author, defines essentialism as a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so that we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter. In essence, the essentialist lifestyle focuses on prioritizing tasks and commitments based on an individual's preference and performance level. And in an effort to help with the process of prioritizing, McKeown breaks down the practice of essentialism into three fundamental steps: exploration, elimination, and execution.

Exploration refers to the discovery of one's passions and ambitions. In order to understand where you are going, you must understand where you are coming from. With that in mind, take the time to not only understand where you want to be five, ten years down the road but also formalize loose steps as to how you will reach those milestones. Through exploration, you will be able to create a filter that helps with screening your opportunities.

Elimination is the removal of cost-heavy commitments that tend to lack adequate social and professional benefits. Most college students are hoarders of clout, we hate to let go of anything that gives us the "1-Up" in a job interview. Rest assured, eliminating extraneous commitments that would operate functionally without you will be a huge weight off your own shoulders. Reflect on your current passions and your future ambitions...whatever does not immediately align, eliminate and free up space!

Execution is the act of successfully applying your talent and time to beneficial undertakings. Imagine the level of efficiency and prosperity you would be able to achieve by concentrating your skillset towards meaningful work aligned with future milestones. Lessening your workload allows you to concentrate your time and talent on your most important commitments. That is what essentialism is all about: executing on meaningful work without overcommitting yourself to extraneous activities.

Reaching the essentialist mindset is definitely a process that requires practice and consistency. By following McKeown's three-step methodology of exploration, elimination, and execution, you can reach your full potential in your selected roles and gloss your resume with meaningful experiences.

Terms and definitions taken from McKeown, George. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. New York, New York: Crown Business, 2014. Print.