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The Case for Subtraction

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Photo by Aleksandra Boguslawska on Unsplash


Remember when you were a kid how much harder subtraction was than addition?   I know I do. 

Decades after struggling through learning subtraction, I became a teacher and had to teach it to my students.  What kind of cruel joke is this?!  I would watch my 3rd graders agonize over borrowing and carrying as they would ask the same question over and over again….

Why is addition so easy, but subtraction is so hard?!  

Even the layman’s term “taking away” made subtraction sound ick.  

Johnny has 6 pieces of candy and his mom takes away 3 pieces.  How many pieces does he have left?  

Why the hell did she take his candy away?!  😤. Mean mom!  Ick, right?

We’re conditioned to believe that taking away is bad.  On the flip side, adding is good.  Just imagine if Johnny’s mom had given him 3 more pieces of candy.  Score!  It’s a totally different vibe, right?

But what happens when you’ve added so much that you can’t take any more?  And while I have plenty of experience with eating too much candy, I’m talking more on an abstract level.  

For a few years now, I’ve been on a mission to lessen the stress in my life.  My word of the year 2020 for is Simplify.  And while I have simplified my household quite a bit, my work has spiraled out of control with a major overdose on gurus, “expert” advice, and comparison.

When June hit this year, I reached burnout.  The same burnout that I try to help other small business owners avoid.  The same burnout that so many are experiencing right now.  

What did burnout look like for me?  Lots of crying, exhaustion, a racing heart, inability to focus, lack of motivation, inability to pay attention to my family, and an extreme need to simplify(or hide under a rock).

Have you ever seen the movie Raising Arizona?   In one scene, Nicholas Cage has just stolen a pack of diapers from a convenience store.  When he runs out, his wife has taken off in the car, so he proceeds to run down the middle of the road.  The police sirens are blaring, the shop owner is shooting a gun, his wife, Holly Hunter is yelling, all while really loud yodeling music plays in the background.  While it is one of the most memorable movie scenes, it’s also super loud and downright unbearable for me.  

This is how I felt at the beginning of June.  It was just too much noise for me.  I couldn’t think. 

I needed a break.  More than I’ve ever needed a break.


✨My first step was to sign off of social media.  Social media has always been a source of anxiety for me and I just couldn’t handle all the hate and divisiveness I was witnessing. 

It was really hard to leave.  I didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t care about racism, but I knew I couldn’t possibly help anyone in the state of mind I was in.  So, I stepped away for a solid month.


✨I unsubscribed from email lists that were no longer serving me.  Some were big corporations, some were small businesses.  


✨I stepped away from my business completely.  In the 6.5 years I’ve been in business, I have never completely taken a vacation.  Yes, I’ve gone on vacation, but I’ve always spent those vacations thinking/obsessing about my business

I will never get those vacations back.  I was never fully present with my family because I was always figuring out the next best thing or what I needed to do to be “successful”.

✨Next, I picked 2-3 reputable sources to listen to about racism.  Not ALL of Instagram.  For me, this was such a blessing.  I actually learned a thing or two, including what I can do to help.  More on that later.

✨I sat in silence.  I took slow walks and listened to the sounds around me.  I didn’t listen to countless podcasts or even music for that matter.  And, I love music. 

But, I needed quiet.  I needed to listen to my own thoughts and process.

✨I spent quality time with my husband and kids.  Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just sat together.  Sometimes we watched the sunset.  We made eye contact.  We hugged. 

I know if I hadn’t stepped away from social media and work I would not have experienced these times.  These are moments I will cherish forever.  

✨I prayed and got back in touch with God.  I found great comfort in this.  Again, subtracting all the usual distractions was the only way this was going to happen.

So, this is a math phobic’s public service announcement for the case for subtraction.  "Taking away" is what a lot of us need right now.  I'm not completely out of the woods of burnout and I'm treading very lightly right now, but I'm starting to feel my spark coming back.

Are you overwhelmed?  Exhausted?  Distracted?  Unable to focus on what matters?  I’m with you, friend.  Consider subtracting rather than adding.  Give yourself grace.  It will take time.  Get quiet.  Rest.  Settle your brain.    

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it”

(Proverbs 4:23)


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