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  • Rick Ezell

What Editing Your Life Will Do for You

Every year at the Academy Awards the most notable prize is for “Best Picture.” Most people could care less about “Best Film Editing.” Yet what most people don’t know is that the two awards are highly correlated: since 1981 not a single film has won Best Picture without at least being nominated for Film Editing. In fact, about two-thirds of the cases the movie nominated for Film Editing has gone on to win Best Picture.

Why? Because good editing makes for a better film.

Good editing makes for a better life, too.

Editing is eliminating that which is non essential so the essential can show through. Lin Yutang wrote, “The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.” It is to stop trying to do it all, stop saying yes to everyone, so you can make the highest contribution towards the things that really matter. Editing is not about getting more things done; it’s about getting the right things done. It doesn’t mean doing less for the sake of less. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at your highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.

Businesses understand the power of editing. The story is told of Steve Jobs coming into a senior management meeting at Apple. He asked for all the major initiatives to be listed on the white board. There were ten. After a moment of reflecting, Jobs stepped to the board and began crossing our good money-making initiatives until there were three left. He said, “These are the three we will give ourselves to. All the others are history.”

Editors understand the power of editing. I’ll never forget the editor who said to me: “Rick, sometimes to say more you need to say less.”

You and I need to understand the power of editing. We need to eliminate the trivial, the unimportant, the irrelevant, the unnecessary, so the important, the relevant, and the necessary can show through. It means there may be a thousand things we could be doing, but only one or two are important.

If we edit our lives, here are a few benefits.

1. Life is more focused.

A literary editor’s job is to make a written piece more focused. The more focused the more powerful.

A focused life is the difference between a florescent light and a laser beam. One is helpful; the other can cut though steel.

I used to advise to doctoral students. My main job was to help them with their thesis, the final paper that would spell the difference between graduating and three to four years of just going to class. Without fail they would send me their thesis proposal. It was broad and general. They could have written reams and reams on their original idea. I had to beat the drum: condense, tighten, focus.

Likewise, our lives need to be focused.

A focused life requires work. Someone once said, “It takes a long time to write a short sentence.” Woodrow Wilson once said, “If I am to speak for ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.” Thomas Jefferson once ended a long letter: PS. Forgive me. I did not have time to be brief. While many have been credited with coming up with this apt sentiment, it seems that Pascal was the originator: “I must apologize: if I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.”

Focusing requires work. Doing less can be harder, both in art and in life. An editor ruthlessly makes every word count.

2. Life runs smoother.

Book publishers employee editors who edit manuscripts so they read more easily and smoothly. They don’t change the message. They simply make sure the message is presented in the most readable form. These people remove the distractions, unnecessary words, and poor syntax so the reading flows.

It reminds me of a man who bought his first boat. It was shiny, new, powerful, and expensive. He couldn’t wait to launch it and show it off to his friends. But no matter how hard he tried, the boat just wouldn’t respond. It was sluggish. It wouldn’t plane. He just couldn’t maneuver it. He began to look around the boat to check everything topside. Everything seemed to be working.

Seeing his plight, the mechanic from a nearby marina motored out to him. Soon the mechanic was in the water checking underneath the boat, trying to find the problem. Immediately, he surfaced and said to the new boat owner: “I think I’ve spotted the problem. We recommend you take the boat off the trailer before you put it in the water!”

The same is true for our lives, too. Often we carry so much baggage and non-essentials that it distracts and hinders our journey. Which leads to the next benefit of editing.

3. Life gains freedom.

Michelangelo was once asked, “How do you create those beautiful sculptures?” Michelangelo replied, “I see the angel in the marble and carve until I set him free.”

I’ve been on many trips with people who carried more luggage than they needed. They struggled to manhandle it all. There was no joy, no peace, no freedom in their trip. Sometimes we need to let things go so we can be free. Those things that hold us down and trip us up zap the joy out of the journey.

Editing our life can help us see those habits, defects, obligations, relationships that hinder our life. They are the “besetting sins” that Paul talked about. They need to be removed so we can be set free.

4. Life is better.

I’ve had many an aspiring writer say, “I don’t like editors.” Yes, editors can be tough. They make you stick to deadlines. They make you do rewrites. But when the day is done and the article or book is published. I say, “I like editors. They make me sound better and the article read better.”

That’s what editing your life will do for you, too. It will make you look better, feel better, live better.

Back in the 90’s Boston Market was encroaching on Chick-fil-A’s market share. It was Chick-fil-A’s first serious competition. Boston Market had huge expansion plans. (They wanted to have a billion dollars in sales by the year 2000.)

Chick-fil-A insiders were a little nervous about this. So they began to have internal conversations about how to grow bigger and faster. The whole situation culminated in a board room at Chick-fil-A headquarters with many of their VP’s and marketing people going back in forth around the table about how do we grow bigger and faster so they could compete with Boston Market.

Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-Fil-A, was down at the end of the table, but he was very, very quiet. In fact, those there described it as if he wasn’t even engaged or interested in the conversation at all, that is, until he began banging his fist on the table. As he banged his fist he quickly had everyone’s attention. He said, “Gentlemen, I am sick and tired of hearing you talk about us getting bigger!” And then he paused. He said, “What we need to be talking about is getting better!”

And then he said: “If we get better, then our customers will demand we get bigger.” And, that statement shifted the conversation of the meeting. It affected the strategy of Chick-fil-A. Consequently, in the year 2000, Boston Market actually filed for bankruptcy. And it was in that same year that Chick-fil-A hit a billion dollars in sales for the very first time.

Chick-fil-A has a simple focused menu. What they do they do well. And, Cathy was right. As they got better, their customers made them bigger.

That is true for us as well. As we edit our lives, focusing on those things that matter most, we will get better.

5. Life gets a do-over.

Robert Cormier reminds us, “The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.”

The beautiful part of life is that you don’t have to get it right the first time. You can edit your life. You change your life.

Remember when we were kids and we’d be playing ball and the ball would get stuck up in a tree or lost in the bushes or go across the street? We’d yell, “Do over!”

Editing our lives allows us a do-over.

According to “The do-over was one of childhood’s most powerful rites, for it exerted our dominion over the laws of space and time. The clock was rolled back, the game was restored to its exact status as before the contested event and play was resumed. If the original play was particularly important and the second attempt was dramatically different (e.g. the player striking out instead of hitting a multi-base shot as in the original play), the do-over might be invoked again. This second invocation would give the team another chance thereby insuring that the universal forces of fair play were being righteously maintained. Yes, it is with fond memories that we recall the do-over a divine method of resolution, and contemplate the untold blessings it could bring if it were somehow extended into our contemporary lives.”

This is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God is the world’s biggest dispenser of do-overs. He loves granting them to contrite and humble recipients. He loves to give us second chances, new beginning, a chance to start over.

Jesus told a story about a young son who squander his inheritance. His only hope was to return home. He was unsure that his father would welcome him back. But his dad did. The dad gave the son a do-over. The son in Jesus’ story represents you and me. The father represents God. God relishes in granting do-overs. God loves to give us a new beginning.

We all have made mistakes, committed errors, taken a wrong turn. We all would like to start over again, to be granted a fresh start. That’s what God provides. That’s what he offers. That’s what he grants.

Finally, when our life on this planet nears its end, we will discover the value and power of editing our lives. Then, we will discover what really matters and what is important. John Maxwell wrote, “You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” It’s been said that people on their deathbeds don’t say I wish I spent more time at the office. As we age and approach our final breath then we discover the power of editing. Then, we know what matters most. We know what will stand the test of time. We know what is essential.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to edit our lives now, determining what is most important, rather than waiting until the end of our life?

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