Anyone who has used a camera with an autofocus lens knows the nightmare of trying to use it with a large depth-of-field. The little motor in the lens lurches back and forth, unable to focus on any one thing, looking around like a confused foreigner lost in a Walmart. When the camera has an infinite number of things to focus on, it can’t decide which is the most important and never finds a clear image.
While autofocus makes it easy to capture decent pictures quickly, sometimes it’s best to switch to manual and find the target yourself. When you are in control, it becomes easy to specifically focus on what you want and keep it in focus long enough to capture an amazing picture. When you’ve got the time to frame and setup the picture at your whim, why wouldn’t you take the best picture possible?
I see a lot of people living life with their autofocus turned on, unable to clearly capture their future plans and goals. They try anything and everything they can; thinking that blindly stumbling between projects is somehow the magical solution to enjoying life or being successful. The media we ingest is erratic, jumpy, and random. We probably all have some form of ADD. Our generation was raised to think we are capable of doing whatever we want. But just because we can do anything, doesn’t mean we should do everything.
I am guilty of this. I have far too many hobbies, and I am admittedly not a master of any of them. I divide my attention too widely and too often. If I would focus on one, I might very well become very good at it, but I find the pursuit of new challenges just as rewarding as mastering an old one. I even do it at work by taking on too many tasks outside my scope, just because I know I can figure out how to do them.
I think this behavior is healthy, in moderation. It becomes a problem when a person’s entire life lacks directed focus. It is a problem when they jump around between major tasks, never spending much time learning or gaining practical skill in a subject before moving on to something completely different. The title is, “Jack of all trades,” with the important caveat, “master of none.” Trying to excel at too many things will ultimately leave you operating far below your potential.
Our work lives are compartmentalized for a reason. Given the complexity of a lot of modern jobs, it is very rare to find a person who is accomplished in every aspect of their field. In the IT world, you almost never find a lead developer who is also a lead tester who is also an excellent administrator who is also a great writer who also leads projects with supreme efficiency, despite the interdependency of these areas. There aren’t enough hours in the day for a person to be truly excellent at so many things. Mastery of an area requires expertise, experience, and dedication, not just a passing interest.
And there is more at stake than just working hours. Being involved with something (if only for a brief period) requires your attention and energy, which against popular belief, is a finite resource. You will eventually burn out. Your ideas will dry up. By trying to do everything, you’ll end up unable to do anything.
I think it is smart for a young person to explore their options to figure out what makes them happy. But at some point, you have to make a decision, set down a path, and start working towards a goal. There seem to be a lot of people trying to figure out how to achieve X or become Y. It’s not complicated: you start doing it. You make it your focus, and you put the majority of your attention towards that thing.
Think of a career or goal as a tree. A person’s main focus is the trunk: supportive and capable of growing tall. As it branches out, each limb supports less and less of its own weight, but adds more weight to the overall structure of the tree. Without a strong, well developed base, the tree will grow, but be under intense pressure and stress. Eventually, if the tree has too many branches that reach too far outward, it can no longer support the weight, and it topples.
As writing is my focus, I’ll use that as an example. A person can never be a writer (or define their voice and improve their craft to the point where other people want to read it) without spending a considerable amount of time and energy actually writing. It requires a strong knowledge of language, storytelling, art, and audience, just for starters. If you want to be a writer, you don’t become one by going out to the bar. You don’t become a writer by posting videos of yourself on the internet. You don’t become a writer just because you tell people you’re writing a book. You become a writer by making a conscious effort to write, and taking time to analyze how you can improve.
The same goes for almost all other skilled jobs in the world. Too many people try to skip the “hard work” and just hope that their basic attempt will make them a success. I think the logic is that if you try enough things, eventually you’ll find one that you’re naturally incredible at, and have to avoid actually putting and real work in.
Unfortunately, that idea is bunk. You can’t claim to be a mechanic just because you know how to drive a car. You aren’t a DJ if you just mash random songs together with a cracked copy of Adobe Audition. You are not an MMA fighter because you go to the gym once a week and watch the UFC. You have to take the time to learn best practices, and more importantly, from your own mistakes.
If you claim to be something that you’re clearly not, you just come across as arrogant and silly. So stop trying to be the best at a hundred things and try instead to be the best at one or two things. You’ll find that not only will people take you more seriously, but your mind, career, and overall happiness will thank you for it.