Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Diversify or Concentrate?

I have been bombarded with choices my entire life. It's really defined me as a person in many ways, mainly because it's left me virtually incapable of making a decision.

I still remember when I was growing up, my parents took me out furniture shopping for a new bedroom set when we moved to Richmond, VA. I can't tell you how many different furniture stores we went to, how many different sets of beds and dressers I looked at, how many different styles there were to choose from. It was exhausting. It was frustrating. I hated every second of it.

In retrospect, I know I was lucky to even have the option of going furniture shopping for my own room. But at the time, I really could not have cared less. I was fifteen, I had no taste whatsoever (and still don't), and every time I actually made a decision about something I liked, my parents would remind me of my dozens of other options, as if I'd somehow made the wrong choice. Granted, one of those choices involved zebra prints and lots of reflective surfaces, but hey -- they asked me what I wanted. We fortunately ended up with a very tasteful set of furniture. I, of course, had nothing to do with selecting it. Which is probably for the best. I was kind of resentful of all of the fruitless furniture shopping trips, though.

Years later, I take the experience as a lesson in a theory I've been developing lately. There is something to be said for a lack of options. It's efficient. It focuses your attention away from all of the fluff, and hopefully puts you in a position to make the best choice out of what you have to work with.

The same is true of selecting a profession. I once had a dean at my undergraduate college explain to me why he hated approving credit overloads for students - he felt like people were spreading their studies too thin, perhaps in hopes of covering just enough ground that they'd be employable to someone, somewhere. He kept having to approve credit overloads for people who were double- and triple-majors, with additional minors in underwater basket weaving as a fall-back. But looking around at the job market these days, it seems like more opportunities are available for people that focused themselves - they picked something, and just went for it. All or nothing.

I think the same can be said for writing. More success is available to those who focus.

Think about it. If you decide that all you want to be is a writer - or a singer, or an actor - what would you do differently? How would you spend your time? You could focus on your craft AND work on the business end of things. Could you think of ways to make ends meet while you focus on your dream?

But then consider how things might be going now, while you're trying to "diversify" - working another full-time job, writing during off hours, squeezing it in when you can. I think this describes a lot of people who are trying to get by financially while holding out some hope of pursuing their dreams on the side.

It doesn't bode well for me, either. I'm not gonna lie - I diversify all over the place. I split my time over a gajillion different projects. My writing performance is spotty at best. I'm not even going to admit to you how many times I haven't gone to the gym lately. I take on so many goals at once, all of them end up suffering in the long-term.

Don't take this post as a ringing endorsement to go out and quit your job immediately (although I wouldn't blame you if you do). But it's food for thought - if you could focus, and concentrate, and just do what you want to do instead of diversifying over several different things, what could you accomplish? Do you see the value if only doing a few things well instead of doing many things at a mediocre level? Can you work towards that now?

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