One of the most important jobs at any museum is the Chief Curator. It’s his or her job to use a discerning eye and a deep understanding of the museum’s mission to select works that are appropriate for the collection. That is why you will see paintings by Pollock and Picasso at the Museum of Modern Art, but you won’t find any by Rembrandt. It is why you will see the Wright brothers’ plane at the Air and Space Museum instead of at the Museum of Natural History.
In a similar way, you’re the Chief Curator of your life. There are so many things that you could be doing; so many people you could be spending time with; so many things you could buy. It is all too easy to flood your life with stuff, people and activities.
The challenge is to be purposeful with what you allow in. To select things that fit well and to cull those that don’t. To choose the right friends and the ideal activities that fit perfectly with who you are and what you want out of life.
It’s easy to get lazy and start letting things in by default. We hang out with people because they’re somewhere in our orbit of friends, not because we feel drawn to them. We say ‘yes’ and become obligated just because someone asks, not because we feel compelled to do whatever it happens to be. Before we know it, our “collection” is a cluttered hodge podge of the weird, unrelated and uninteresting.
You can do better. Select your activities purposefully. Choose your friends wisely. Most importantly, don’t overstuff your life by saying “yes” to everything. Show me someone with a remarkable life and I’ll show you someone who is a tough curator.
Writer Nora Ephron understood this idea. She died recently, but I remember an interview she gave in her later years where she talked about awakening to the realization that her time was limited. She wanted to be discerning with what she did, even to the point of what restaurants she would go to. She said:
“Is this meal I’m having something I really want to have? If someone says to me, let’s go somewhere and it’s not good, I say ‘Let’s not.’ Because I have a finite number of meals ahead of me and they are all going to be good.”
The lesson? Choose everything—friends, hobbies, work, philanthropy, clothes, vacations, meals, gadgets, books, etc.—with a discerning eye. Your life will be defined by what you allow in and what you keep out.