Working Towards Focus

Many people I know (myself included) have lots of things they’d like to do. Perhaps too many: Work projects, career arcs, family responsibilities, professional associations, hobbies, leisure activities, travel plans, shopping lists, and more, all tug on our attention. For some people, these needs and desires are aligned. When you ask them what they do, they reply with single-minded clarity. But most of us aren’t like that. Most of us respond with a muddle of conflicting interests. Whitman said we contain multitudes. Multitudes don’t speak with a clear, distinct voice; they murmur.

This lack of alignment is okay — unless you’re aiming for greatness. Becoming extraordinarily good at anything requires focus. It requires that we pass on many alluring things, even “just this once.” It’s hard. And it’s not the norm, so you’ll have to justify it — to yourself and others.

Do you feel like the various parts of your life are aligned, or are they in conflict with each other? Can you speak clearly about what you do? What are you working towards? What are you ultimately in service to?

You and I are fortunate in being able to contemplate these questions. For most of our forebears, there was a straightforward answer: survival. Hand-to-mouth. We’re beyond that. (I know so because you’re reading these words.) The question, then, is do you want to focus — knowing that you don’t have to. It’s possible to live a fulfilling life without it. For my part, I feel the responsibility to do something great with this “above baseline” lifetime I’ve been granted. But I can’t force focus; the sacrifices needed are too great for the fake-it-till-you-make-it mindset. Instead, I see working towards focus as a process of discovery, one to be engaged seriously, playfully, and (ideally) in the company of others.