I should be writing the book now, but instead I’m writing this blog post. Read on to see the irony.
How do people “suddenly” accomplish great things? Sometimes it seems like they pop up out of nowhere with recorded albums, a thriving business, international awards, powerful careers and even published books. Do they possess some superior intelligence not accessible to the rest of us? Do they have more hours in a day or significantly less responsibilities jostling for their attention?
In most cases I believe the answer is no, or at least they actively make the answer a no. Let me explain. The problem likely is not that you lack intelligence. In fact, your intelligence may be the very thing fuelling your rampant curiosity and ambitions to explore multiple interesting paths. As a result, shifting amongst these mental and sometimes physical excursions eats away at your time each day. You’ve convinced yourself that each one is a worthy cause and eligible for your immediate attention.
Well, this is fine if the goal is to approach life like a fancy wine tasting where you take a little sip of several things, most of which get spit out and discarded. You may prefer the analogy of a cocktail where you float through the room sampling bits of food and conversations, but never committing long enough to experience the depth and richness of any.
In an interview, renowned DJ/Entertainer/Artist Clinton Sparks told the story of his young days in school when they asked the classic question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. His response (paraphrased), “Why do I have to choose? I can be many things.” I resonate and agree with this response, however, I would add the crucial caveat that you can do anything, but perhaps not at the same time, and certainly not at the same level of excellence.
Why? Because mastery takes time. To become great at something, to produce brilliant work, for a certain period at least, we have to forsake some other curiosities and unleash extreme focus on the task at hand. This is the bitter price of focus. The cognitive tension of temporarily pushing aside things that bring us joy, things that we are also good at, to focus on thing at which we want to be great.
In the past year I’ve had to rearrange priorities in ways I never imagined. Months passed without me touching a saxophone or other instrument. Social outings got turned down, blogging starved, and the early stages of building a YouTube channel got put on hold because I realised that writing a first book requires a higher level of focus to produce something great.
And so here I am reluctantly paying the price of seeing social media growth and other projects survive on minimal attention, because at least for now the most pressing goal is to become an author, of something that will add meaning and value to people’s lives.
How will you pay the price?
Dalan is a private banker, executive career coach and content creator sharing essential career advice for ambitious young professionals at dalanv.com. Catch him on social media @dalanv.