Why It’s OK Not to Focus On One Thing
Most self-development advice revolves around the fundamental idea: you achieve success by focusing on a single task. This makes sense, it sounds right, and I’ve been saying it myself a number of times.
But — as any advice, this one has its limitations.
It’s an old joke that most entrepreneurs have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). But why?
Entrepreneurs are people who create something out of nothing by assembling separate parts. They create something that wasn’t there before.
Entrepreneurs are artists.
When people say you’ve got to focus on a single task, they usually refer to the problems of dispersed attention — you do ten things, and end up not becoming successful at any of them.
Focus — is an essential element to “success.”
But how can you assemble unrelated parts, if all you do is focus on one thing?
And what is this “success” that focus is an essential element of, anyway?
The Multi-Passionate Entrepreneur
I first heard this term from Marie Forleo. In her book (Everything is Figureoutable), she called herself a multi-passionate entrepreneur, after giving up on living by the “focus dogma.”
She couldn’t fit her life into the general idea of “success.” She was passionate about too many things: investing, content creation, dancing, life coaching.
The traditional path told her: “Pick one profession and become the best at it. That’s how you become successful”.
But she said, “Yeah, but that feels like cutting off a limb. How about I get rid of the traditional notion of success altogether?”
Instead of following traditional advice, she used her inability to focus (a seeming disadvantage) and made it work for her. She became a multi-passionate entrepreneur and person.
And it worked out fine.
I’ve been trapped by the “focus dogma” my whole life.
My father was a successful entrepreneur in Russia; whenever we talked, he would pressure me to focus and pick a profession.
Everywhere I looked — YouTube, Medium, self-help books, everyone would talk about the benefits of living a focused life.
And I agreed with it — in my head. But in my heart, I always felt that something was off.
I couldn’t force myself to get rid of all the things I valued just because it was more practical to do so. That’s just not how I roll.
I was interested in podcasting, business, TikTok videos, writing fiction and non-fiction, producing TV shows, and what have you — but I didn’t want to focus on any of those things. I didn’t see myself as being a professional writer or a podcaster.
So — I asked myself, “What is my definition of success?” and realized, that it was this:
Living my life to the full; being everything I can be; realizing all of my potentialities.
When you get rid of the traditional notion of success, the conventional paths don’t apply to you anymore.
When you do a bunch of different projects, here’s what happens:
- You make ideas have sex. Two ideas from unrelated fields usually give birth to breakthroughs.
- You live your life to the full. You also avoid regret and not wonder, “What if…”
- You don’t have FOMO. You aren’t missing out on anything, because you’re doing whatever you want.
- You don’t spend time reading self-help “focus literature.” Because you know it doesn’t apply to you.
- People think you’re unstoppable. They’ll ask you the same question I get asked all the time, “How do you find the time to do all of these things?!”
What’s Your Legacy?
Figuring out the definition of your success is the same as understanding what your legacy is.
I know, it sounds grand. But it’s nothing more than what you want your life to be an example of.
When I acknowledged that I want my life to be a journey of living to the full, and being everything I can be, I saw that the “focus dogma” doesn’t apply to me anymore.
My legacy could be something else entirely: an example of how you can redefine “success,” live your life the way you like it, and be the inspiration for others to do the same.
The big lesson in this short piece is this: always challenge conventional wisdom.
It’s hard to think independently when you’ve got advice pieces flying from a dozen different directions, and gurus giving out tips on how to become “great.”
But think for yourself. Maybe you don’t need to become “great.” Maybe you think (like me) that greatness is overrated, and you’re fine, just being happy.
And maybe — you believe that focus is not right for you, because you love doing all of those fun things you want to do.
And if it doesn’t make you as successful, as you would have been if you laser-focused, well, so what? Screw traditional advice.
And screw focus.