‘How can we fall back in love with the idea of enough as a way of living, so that we stop striving and start thriving?’
The Art of Enough is the challenge of our age, says Becky Hall: as individuals and as a society we’re beset on the one hand by scarcity (feeling inadequate, being under-resourced) and on the other by excess (overwhelm, over-consumption). Our personal and business goals are dictated by a relentless growth imperative that neither we nor the planet can sustain.
In this powerful conversation, Becky shares how she translated her profound message into a book, and the difficult decisions she faced about keeping its integrity.
A treasure of an episode.
The Art of Enough: https://www.theartofenough.co.uk/
Becky on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/beckyhallartofenough/
Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky
The 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge September 2021: https://alisonjones.leadpages.co/proposal-challenge/
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
The Extraordinary Business Book Club bookshop: https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/extraordinarybusinessbooks
Alison Jones: I’m here today with Becky Hall, who has worked for over twenty-five years with people in a wide range of organizations as a consultant and an executive coach. She specializes in helping people build gravitas, presence and inner confidence, and she’s designed and run numerous resilience, leadership, and change programs for businesses to help them shape their cultures.
As well as all her professional accreditations, she also trained and worked for eight years as an actor and brings much of what she learned in the theatre to her practice now, and her new book, The Art of Enough, can we have a little wave of it please Becky, Seven ways to build a balanced life and a flourishing world, is out this month from Practical Inspiration Publishing.
So welcome to the show, Becky. It is gorgeous. Isn’t it?
Becky Hall: It’s absolutely great to be here Alison and yes, I love, I love having a book. I love having written it and I love how it’s turned out. It’s a beautiful cover and I’m very pleased with it.
Alison Jones: I was saying to Becky by email actually, I arrived home from holiday after a very full day, you know, tip of the Outer Hebrides to kind of middle of Cheshire in one hit, 4 45 wake up, 10:30 PM arrival. And that book was waiting for me behind the door, along with a pile of other stuff, I ripped it open and pretty much burst out crying because it was so gorgeous.
It may have had something to do with the ridiculously long day. But.
Becky Hall: Yes, the fact that you were at home and you’d had enough of driving I expect.
Alison Jones: There was probably a little bit of that in it as well.
Becky Hall: Yes.
Alison Jones: You are going to have to explain that amazing phrase to us, Becky, because it is very resonant, isn’t it? What do you mean when you talk about the art of enough?
Becky Hall: Well, yes, it is resonant and I’m glad you think so. Really it’s about how we can all learn how to live with the concept of enough as a driving force in our life, instead of the concepts of scarcity and excess that so often dominate how we live.
And if I give you a little bit of context, so often in my work as a coach and a consultant with people and indeed in my own life, I hear people say things like I’m just not enough, or I can’t do enough, or I’m just somehow an imposter or not up to the challenge. And this is extremely successful and accomplished people I’m talking about. So it’s as though lots of us feel that we can’t quite be enough and we’re really struggling with that.
And then on the other end of the scale, the sort of excess end, there are so many people that I work with, again myself included, who feel compelled to just not be able to stop working.
They’re swamped with volumes of work and of course in leadership roles there is always a lot. But it’s this sense that there can’t be a boundary or that people always have to be on or responsive. And that actually isn’t just leaders, that’s all of us in our socially networked world.
And then we live in the context of catastrophic climate change. You know, the latest IPCC report on climate change is unequivocal. And it’s called for us to learn to live within planetary boundaries. And it’s as though we can’t have enough.
So this sort of not being able to be, do and have enough really resonated for me. And the more I thought of it, the more I thought, well, the central theme in this is how we can live with enough and fall back in love with the idea of enough as a way of living, so that we stop striving and start thriving and shift our focus that way.
Alison Jones: And what really struck me about your concept as you describe it to me, as I’m reading it again in the book, is the way that it interplays between all those different levels. So as you say that very, very personal level, that sense of imposter syndrome, of not being enough, having too much to do, feeling overwhelmed, but also that macro economic picture as well.
I know you’ve drawn on Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics theory there as well. Organizations, let’s talk about how this plays out in the workplace as well.
Becky Hall: Well, I agree, it’s all about systemic sorts of levels, isn’t it? And so, in many ways, the art of enough is a very internal process for people who feel that they’re not enough. But then of course, in the cultures of organizations, my work with lots of organizations to help them with their resilience, people often say to me, well, it’s all very well me taking half an hour off at lunchtime, but what about the culture of the organization? How do we manage that?
So I think it’s a challenge for organizations to really learn how to facilitate or create a culture whereby enough really is, does have an end point. And I think that as organizations really wrestle with the concept of wellbeing, as we come back from lockdown and create blended working and hybrid working environments, it’s going to be a real challenge and a good one. One that I think will improve organizations, to help them set good, clear boundaries around what’s expected and what’s possible. And I think in the organizational sense, it’s often allowing people to stop and allowing people to recharge their batteries and creating really good boundaries around that.
And then of course organizations, as all of us, have a contribution to make to the climate. And I think that increasingly, certainly in the coaching world, there’s a real sense that in leadership we all need to think about this stuff. It’s not going away and it’s not something that’s out there or in our sort of personal lives, as opposed to our working lives, even if we don’t work directly within anything to do with the climate, we all live on the planet and we all need to work out how we negotiate that too.
Alison Jones: And did the mindset change around that organizationally? I mean, it’s hard enough individually, isn’t it? You know, we’ve lived so long with that sense of wanting to be more, to sort of to shine, but organizations have been hardwired, in their DNA is that idea of growth. And I think it’s really interesting the way that you have reclaimed the word enough, which is often used quite dismissively. It’s a complicated word, isn’t it?
And that sense that we’re going to have to be okay with that. We’re going to have to look at growth differently than we have before, in a way that puts boundaries on it if we’re going to survive as a planet.
Becky Hall: Yes, I agree. And I really wrestled with even using the word enough and there was a whole debate about it. And in the end I stuck with it because I think it does need reclaiming. I think that this idea that limits are always restrictive is a sort of false narrative. And actually I argue in my book and I believe that limits like boundaries, healthy limits, like healthy boundaries are actually enabling their containers.
And I’ve got a chapter in the book about growth where I sort of begin to talk about the macroeconomic side of things, drawing, as you say, on loads of the economists, including Kate Raworth’s work.
And I was really lucky to meet the wonderful Charles Handy, who’s an incredible guru of business thinking. And he told me about lots of organizations that he has worked with in his very esteemed career who set limits on their own growth. And that enables them to have a much more long-term approach.
And he talked about a lot of German companies. And I actually worked a little bit with Bosch and it’s a family run organization where 97% of their profits get reinvested back into the business to help with their longterm research and development, with supporting their people. And it’s a really different approach.
And I think that, so it’s not new, of course it’s happening in a lot of places, but it’s not very often spoken about. And we get very caught into this idea that more is better and that growth has to be exponential. And that actually we have to scale up to as be as big as we possibly can be.
And I’m saying, what if we decided how big we wanted to be. So that rather than getting so big that we topple over, we grow within our healthy limits and then really allow ourselves to achieve what it is we really want to do. So it’s a sort of focus on quality, on long-termism, on flourishing, a whole range of things.
And that could be a really, really creative, regenerative and actually very profitable way of going about things.
Alison Jones: And you use that word about narrative. And I think that is really key, isn’t it? And one of the really exciting things you get to do, I guess, somebody like you writing a business book like this, is reshape that narrative, reclaim those words. And it’s a great testament to the power of words and the power of the stories that we hold in our heads, the associations around those words. Yes, really powerful.
Well you mentioned very briefly that kind of debate around the use of the word enough, and we won’t go into specifics and name names and so on, but I know that you actually turned down a publishing agreement with a very prestigious publisher because of that, which took a huge amount of courage I think, just tell me a little bit about that.
Becky Hall: Well you know, when you’re pitching for a book deal, you want to as many people as possible to like it, and as you say, a wonderful publisher and a wonderful editor picked it up and said, I really like this idea but then came back to me and said, I’m not sure about the word enough. It doesn’t feel aspirational enough, or it’s not quite sort of ambitious enough. And we played around a lot with alternative titles because I was thinking, well, I don’t want to get too precious about the title. I really like the title and it’s something that I’ve been holding for years actually, in my idea, but, you know, okay, I’ll try other ones.
But in the end actually, we just agreed that well, my thought was if she doesn’t like the title, she won’t really like the book. And I think in that sense, as a writer, sometimes you have to say, look, this is what I want to say and I can’t change it so much that the publisher will publish it because if I’m publishing what I don’t want to say, then what’s the point. And it felt quite, in the end it felt quite essential.
And you know, I think I’m glad I did. I’m very glad I’m publishing it with Practical Inspiration, because I’m glad I’m publishing it with a publisher that gets it and wants to publish the work. And I think that is always something that you have to think about when you’re writing something.
Why am I saying it and what is it that I’m really trying to say? What’s most important.
Alison Jones: We’re glad you’re publishing with us, happy ending.
Becky Hall: Yes.
Alison Jones: And how ironic, isn’t it, that the word enough wasn’t enough.
Becky Hall: Yes. I know. I mean, in the end I tried everything. I mean, you know, it just wasn’t for them and that’s fine, they’re wonderful people and good publishers, it just wasn’t within their portfolio.
But I think that’s, I mean it’s what lots of people ask me. It’s like, well, hang on. What about growth? Does that mean we’re not allowed to grow anymore? Does that mean we’re not allowed to be ambitious?
And what I would say to that is no, it’s not saying that. In fact, the opposite is the case. That what I’m saying is that when we can focus on the present moment, on who we are, on what we want to say, on what we want to do as individuals, leaders, business people, human beings, making our way.
Then we stop wasting our time on not being enough or feeling competitive, or compelled or inadequate to the task and all of that stuff, which takes huge resource and energy. And we can start focusing on what’s in front of us and what we really want to do. So it’s a really sort of, it’s actually a sort of realignment to purpose, to values, to a sense of self, to a sense of what we want to achieve in the world.
And that, that is what I’m calling enough. That’s within the sort of healthy limits, bounded, well-crafted, well thought through. So it’s the opposite of unambitious, I would say it’s sort of the prerequisite for achieving ambition actually, is what I’m really arguing.
Alison Jones: And it is an art, isn’t it? You make that very clear in the book and I’m looking at the illustration behind you, Daisy’s beautiful illustration of that. You’ve got, you know, scarcity on the one hand and excess on the other, and it’s quite a fine point that you’re balancing.
And it’s going to be different for everybody.
And I thought it was interesting that you chose to call it an art
Becky Hall: Yes, that’s absolutely right, because it is different for everyone and it is a balance point, you know, it’s really fine.
Alison Jones: A dynamic process.
Becky Hall: Yes, nothing’s ever still in these things. So actually this stuff takes constant attention. It takes constant work. And I like both the image of a sort of scale because I think balance, we talk about balance a lot and actually balance takes quite a lot….
I mean, if you try standing on one leg, you know, you have to constantly adjust. And what’s true for me, isn’t true for everyone else. And I’ve worked with hundreds of people and everyone is different. Of course we are, we all have to find our own point. So it is art. And I also like the idea that it’s creative and that it enables flourishing in that creative way.
So yes, that’s the idea of the art.
Alison Jones: And let’s talk about the writing, Becky, how did you find the writing? What surprised you about that process?
Becky Hall: Well having had the idea of the book for seven years, I think I told you that it was the biggest surprise about the writing in the initial stages was that I was actually doing it, as opposed to talking about it. So there was something about that. But what surprised me about the writing was how once I had a structure and once I had begun to really clarify what I wanted to say, how lovely it was, how genuinely enjoyable it was to find a way of expressing what I wanted to say. And also that talking about writing a book is very different from writing it because the depth that you have to go into when you’re writing and the sort of constant honing of your ideas and your thinking is really, really fun.
I mean, it’s really generative and good. I mean, you know, there are hard yards too, but actually getting it down and then crafting it and then honing it, I just found it a really, a really enjoyable process actually. And I’ve written stuff before, but never, never something that’s required quite as much as a book, you know, there’s 5,000 words and there’s 55,000 words.
Alison Jones: Let’s go back to that point where you transitioned from talking about writing the book to writing the book, because I think that when you’ve been talking about for so long, and it has all the charm of abstractness and the beauty of the idea: what happens, what shifts, what enables you to shift into the actual writing? And can you remember that moment of actually starting, was there some resistance there?
Becky Hall: A little bit of resistance and a little bit of, oh gosh, really now I’m doing it. Actually what the biggest help, apart from your wonderful 10 Day Book Proposal Challenge, which genuinely really helped because it makes it very concrete. So I think the big, the big shift for me is exactly as you just said, actually moving from abstraction to concrete.
So post-it notes were a huge help. I had them all over my wall. I had post-it notes for absolutely every chapter and every time I thought of something else I wanted to put into the book, I’d write it on a post-it note and then work out where it went. So that was a way of making it really concrete.
And then when I booked out time to write each chapter, the first draft of each chapter, I would just get all of those post-it notes and then I would put them in an order and then begin to work out what it was I wanted to say. And also the other thing is I love reading. You can see I’ve got loads of books behind me and one thing I would get down all the books that I felt like would resource me for each chapter. I didn’t end up referencing them all, but just, Okay, where am I? How am I piecing this together? It’s a bit like a sort of patchwork quilt. How am I piecing these ideas together and what will resource me to do that? And then just sitting down and turning everything off and doing it.
Alison Jones: I love the idea of resourcing you, getting the books down and sometimes you don’t even have to read them again, do you? Just that, because they are there, one of the great things about print books is when you see a book that you’ve read and loved and has given you something, it kind of anchors it all back again.
Becky Hall: Yes, it really does. I’m a big fan of that. I mean, I listen to loads of books, but I nearly always buy them as well. And I know that that might be counter to the art of enough, but I find
Alison Jones: Well, I think one exception…
Becky Hall: I’ve got enough books…
Alison Jones: Yes, we can all agree that books are the one exception, you can never have too many books. Right.
Becky Hall: That’s right. yes, and actually to bring it back around to enough, actually, I talk a lot about what resources you and I think that that’s important as long as you’re really clear about things resourcing you, yes.
Alison Jones: My book habit is fine, right?
Becky Hall: Yes, you are fine, Alison, don’t worry.
Alison Jones: And what about the sort of the wider publishing piece? because obviously writing the book, you sort of, you know, you write the end and you think you’re done, but there is a huge amount after that, isn’t there? So what about that sort of process? the marketing? Because I know you’ve been doing talks
Becky Hall: Oh golly. yes, I mean this, the writing of the book is very different from showing it to the world, but it’s the scariest bit, for me, it’s the sharing it with the world is both the exhilarating bit and the scary bit. It’s the bit that makes my toes curl because it’s like, oh my gosh, now people will actually read this thing…
Alison Jones: What if they don’t like it?
Becky Hall: Yes all those feelings and doubts and chimps and all of that stuff, but actually of course, a bit like writing, as soon as you start socializing and as soon as you start giving talks or talking to people about it, it changes. And actually the big shift for me was getting the actual book.
So, I’d been planning a sort of marketing campaign and how to get it out and everything, but at the same time, getting really nervous and going, oh, why did I do this? And then the box of books arrived. And I was like, oh my goodness, this is beautiful. I was so pleased with it.
But also this isn’t about me. This is about the reader. This actually doesn’t even belong to me anymore. It’s no longer mine. It’s no longer my concept. It’s no longer what’s been in my head or with the team of people that have helped me write it. It’s for everyone now. And it felt really as though the sort of movement was one, an outward movement, it was like, okay, well off you go.
And, and that really helped. I mean, it was, it sounds quite sort of, but, but it was, it was a real movement for me.
Alison Jones: Oh, that’s really lovely. And I’m going to ask you for your best tip for a business book author who’s maybe in the early stages still, what would you say to them?
Becky Hall: Do you know what really, really helped me apart from the obvious, you know, plan it out, allow it to be granular enough so that you can write stuff. But the best thing for me was having a reader as I went, I chose one person who was extremely wise and generous with his time, and he read every chapter in the first iteration and then we had a session and he would say, well, this bit’s not quite clear. How about that? And there were two things about that that made it really useful. One, how wonderful Michael is and how the quality of his feedback, of course.
But the other thing was it stopped me being precious about my own ideas and started making me realize that this isn’t about me, it’s not about my ego, this isn’t about me writing the best thing, I think an essential part of creativity is about what you cut. And actually, I cut much as I’ve chosen.
So I think it allowed me to stop being precious and start being a bit more. Okay, come on, get rid of that. That’s indulgent. That doesn’t work. How’s it going to work? So having a buddy, really, for me, that made a massive difference. That’s what I would really recommend if you can find someone who’s kind enough and good enough to give you that time.
Alison Jones: Was Michael’s input also about that cutting process? Was he challenging you on stuff?
Becky Hall: Oh, yes, what would happen would I’d sent him a draft and we would have usually a sort of three hour conversation, which was very wide ranging because he was really into the ideas and the book and what about this and what about that? And he would also give me some really specific feedback.
He would say, I’m not sure this paragraph worked, or actually, I think maybe you need to turn this chapter on its head and start with this point. So we would have that sort of writing construct sort of conversation and then I would go back and go, okay, let’s look at this afresh.
And sometimes it was like, cutting swathes out. Sometimes it was turning on its head, it was a rewrite. So that by the time I got to the beta version, which is when each chapter was on at least draft three or four, and I’d got to a point where it was much much more honed. I think it helped.
Alison Jones: And it’s almost like externalizing the process as well. Isn’t it? It’s so hard to do that yourself because mired in uncertainty and even just speaking it out loud helps.
Becky Hall: Yes, I read a book by Martha Beck, The Way of Integrity. And it said in her acknowledgements that she had phoned a friend and read out each chapter as she was writing it to that person who was also another writer. And I loved that. I thought, well, great, that’s the same thing.
You have to somehow check that it works. You need someone to sort of almost represent the reader for you. So that what you’re trying to communicate is landing in the way that you want it to land. So you’re thinking about the reader rather than yourself. That’s I think part of the gift of what’s being given, I think,
Alison Jones: Yes, and there’s a double benefit to that as well, which is that you catch all the oddities of your language, because when you write, you write in a writing voice, out loud you realize actually no human being would ever say that sentence.
Becky Hall: No.
Alison Jones: I probably need to change it.
Becky Hall: Yes I think a thousand words that I cut were the word ‘that’ I was like, oh.
Alison Jones: Yes, you always can’t hear your own verbal tics or your nonverbal tics but your graphical tics are the things you write down.
Becky Hall: Yes, that’s it. Exactly.
Alison Jones: How funny. And I’m going to ask you for a recommendation as well, Becky, and I’m really interested in this because I know how many books you read as part of the research for The Art of Enough partly because it’s so wide ranging, so the research comes from all over.
But there one that you’d particularly like to share with us as something really valuable?
Becky Hall: Well, I knew you were going to ask this question. It’s so hard.
Alison Jones: Which is your favourite child?
Becky Hall: Yes, exactly. There are so many good books. But because you ask for business book, it’s not really a business book, but these are the two, I couldn’t of course do two. And if you’d let me have three, I’ll have three.
Alison Jones: I think two is enough, Becky.
Becky Hall: Exactly. Gay Hendricks book The Big Leap, I think had a massive impact on me when I read it for the first time, nothing to do with this book. And although I only reference it once, I think it’s got such profound advice really, and especially his point about the upper limit problem.
Funnily enough, he’s talking about limits in a very different way from the way I do. He’s saying that we put our limits on ourselves that sort of hold us back, that we self-sabotage just as we’re about to do our best work, we self-sabotage. And that resonates for me. And I think that as a coach and as a human, so I think that’s really useful.
I can’t really not mention Brene Brown. I mean, I know she’s very well known, but The Gifts of Imperfection, I think is one of her early books, which I think is really useful for those people who get caught into this cycle, which is funnily enough, a cycle of scarcity, which is that we compare ourselves unfavorably to other people and believe that we should be a perfect version of ourselves.
So there’s that. And I’m not going to mention Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics because it’s not a business book, but you know, it’s really a brilliant book. So I’d read it if I were you.
Alison Jones: Well, thank you for not mentioning that, that was great.
And Becky, people want to find out more about you, more about The Art of Enough, where should they go?
Becky Hall: Well they should obviously buy the book and if they wanted to buy the book on the 20th of September for 99p on the Kindle, then that would be even better. But, buy the real book.
My website is theartofenough.co.uk, go there. It will take you to my business websites and then you’ll find out all about me and also the book.
And I’m on Instagram, @beckyhallartofenough, LinkedIn, Becky Hall. Facebook page all the socials.
Alison Jones: All the socials, brilliant. Well, here’s my copy. It is an absolutely beautiful book. It’s a really, really powerful concept. And it is actually, I should say as well, beautifully written. So yes, we’re just so, so thrilled to have published it. And and thank you for taking the time to talk us through it today.
Becky Hall: You’re really welcome. Thank you for publishing it and thanks for all you do Alison, bye.