The following is a widely-discussed and rather mundane observation which I’m probably subconsciously ripping off from a bunch of other people. However, I think it’s good to talk about anyway because a lot of people struggle with this. I know I do all the time.
For creative, multi-talented people who are driven to strive for excellence, it can be very hard to maintain focus. We want to do this…no wait, we want to do that…no wait, we want to that that too! And we want to be good at ALL OF THEM. It’s not acceptable to be merely adequate. And allowing for any semblance of mediocrity is an insult to all notions of common decency.
The problem is that there is not enough time, energy, money, and resources available to us to be excellent at many things. It’s hard enough to be excellent at one thing. Some people spend a lifetime achieving true excellence in one field. Why do we think we can achieve that in a few short years with multiple callings?
It seems to me we need to learn how to orient ourselves around an excellence pyramid. At the top of the pyramid are one, possibly two things that we truly prioritize in our lives and strive to be not just good at, but great at. We might even rise to global prominence with enough effort. These are the things that consume us, that haunt us in the night watches. The vision we have of our future creative potential in these areas is so visceral that it’s hard to believe our dreams haven’t yet become reality.
Below that narrow, top-tier is the larger, middle part of the pyramid which represents our hobbies and side-projects. They help provide a change of pace from our first love(s) and provide an occasional escape into “fun”. We might spend a fair amount of time on these pursuits, possibly even getting quite good at them. They might not be our #1 creative priorities, and we might not be geniuses in these areas, but we nevertheless might achieve a decent amount of success with them.
At the base of the pyramid, which is the largest part, are our many, many “I wish I were good at it” pursuits that will always be just out of reach. We might dabble in many of them over the years, but they’ll always be more of an occasional “kicks ‘n’ grins” sort of deal where we can laugh at our ineptitude. As a bona-fide computer geek, I consider pretty much any sport in this category.
The challenge isn’t just to identify which of those few things we can focus on for true excellence, which of those several things we can be reasonably good at, and which of those many things we can dabble in as time and energy permits. The challenge is also to be content with those priorities. I know I often find myself upset that I’m not better at something that I love to do. It can be a major source of frustration until I realize this isn’t a primary focus for my life. It’s OK I’m not that good at it. Maybe way down the road it’ll become more important for me, but for now, I can keep it on the back-burner. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say.
It’s taken me quite a number of years to realize that the #1 thing at the top of my creative pyramid is music. I’ve spun my wheels in so many different pursuits at the expense of my focusing on music and honing my composition and performance skills. It’s easy to get side-tracked into working on Web sites, playing around with photography, shooting or editing video, programming, inventing physical objects, landscaping the backyard, designing a bistro (I kid you not…I bought a book on modern café design recently)…and so on and so forth. I’m not good at all of that. I’m not that great at most of it. But I am good at music, and I am good at Web development. I need to maintain focus in those key areas. The rest will attend to itself organically.