When we consider what it takes to be successful, most experts will suggest that you find one particular area of focus and narrow in on it as tight as possible. But I’ve tried that strategy and found it less than inspiring. To be honest, I believe it’s brought me more struggle than success.
From the start of my writing journey, I fell into the trap of hyper-focus. It was hard not to as this seems to be the strategy everyone preaches. Of course, there were plenty of things about a narrower view that made sense to me: my clarity and understanding should have been deeper in a tightly-defined niche, it would be easier to brand myself so that people could understand more easily what I was all about, and it seemed certain that I would have the capability to go farther.
But what I’ve learned over my approximately five-year journey of finding my own area of impact is that it is perfectly acceptable to hold a looser grip, to be more expansive in my view, and to allow myself to explore a topic from multiple angles.
Go Wide or Go Home
The first benefit to a wider view is that by not narrowing in on a tight focus, our experience can be more fun and enjoyable. I could literally feel the constriction of the narrow way but by loosening my grip I became much more like the 7-year-old boy I remember myself to be: curious, full of fun, and in love with life. To not be constrained is to find freedom and in that, we can retain the best of what it means to be alive and in pursuit of those things that are most important to us.
Interestingly, I feel as though I have been going farther in my work faster than I ever did before. When you imagine driving a car in a very tight alley you can see how your intense attention could sap your energy and that your ability to drive would be marked by a tendency for over-correction. Rather than simply driving with ease and speed, you would be limited to focusing on your path and not hitting the side walls. Get out on the open road, however, and you would again be able to drive freely toward your destination.
I have also discovered that I have many more opportunities to grow when my horizons widen. When we are more open to life, more is drawn to us. It is the difference between a closed fist and an open one. And personally, we are free to grow in ways we never would have known otherwise. Rather than being root-bound to a small pot, when we are planted within a larger landscape we can grow unimpeded.
“Your greatness is measured by your horizons.” – Michelangelo
As we open to more, something else directs a greater growth in us as well. Evolutionary scientists tell us that a key component for a quantum leap from one level to a higher one is the presence of a minimal degree of complexity. This is not to necessarily imply a state of chaos but rather the bringing together of many things into a more sophisticated whole.
This state is also known as synergy, the synthesis of many different elements into something that is greater than the sum of its individual parts. But to be effective, synergy requires exactly that, many different parts. I’ve found that with a higher level of complexity comes an ability to evolve to greater heights. With the one-track focus, we grow but don’t truly evolve.
A Case Study: Elon Musk
As we discuss this idea of going wide rather than narrowing in our focus, it seems proper to substantiate it as a strategy that actually brings success in its implementation. Toward that end, I cannot think of a more perfect example than Elon Musk. Elon is arguably one of the most successful individuals of our time. And he also has a reputation for anything but a narrow focus.
Elon is currently the CEO or involved at a high level with numerous companies, institutes, and foundations, all of which are distinctly different in focus. But when one looks closer, there seems to be a fit and all his interests somehow work with or benefit from each other.
By the measure of the specific-focus strategy, he should be an utter failure—a branding nightmare and productivity backfire. But he is completely the opposite. His efforts seem to be extremely successful and people easily perceive a personal brand for him—the wizard intellect and bold individual who is taking humanity forward despite all naysayers and all bureaucracy.
“De-focus, for there lies another perspective.”
Widening Your Own View
My suggestion is rather than blindly believing that a highly-focused strategy is the only way to succeed, try loosening the reigns and go a little wider than narrower. This is backwards advice to most you’ve heard and there are plenty of brand and productivity specialists who will counter the argument.
But I’m not advocating for focusing on completely unrelated interests. The point is to just not be too specific. You can always go a little wider in your particular field. Things will still relate in some way—let it all find its own inherent balance. As you do I believe that you will find greater ease and enjoyment toward a higher level of success. Undoubtedly your growth will flourish in ways the hyper-focused strategy never would have allowed.
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