"Focus on one thing at once" and other bad advice.

To be an expert, or not to be, that is the question. Can you be an expert, or even excel, in multiple fields in succession? Can you work on numerous projects at once, and still have the capacity to offer each the required attention to get the job done? What are the variables that allow for some to seemingly be great at everything, all at once, whilst others struggle at their one occupation? 

I believe it comes down to knowing oneself. I’ve now had around 10 businesses, in different sectors doing different things. Some successful, some not. Some at the same time, some overlapping. The benefit, I have found, is the acquisition of a diverse range of skills acquired by working within vastly different industries & with equally diverse people. This is something that’s hard to quantify. Who would of thought nervously speaking in front of 50 kids & their parents at a football camp as a nervous 18 year old would pay dividends when 10 years later, I find myself lecturing a room full of university students on economics? 

The consistent advice I was given that’s bugged me, although I’m sure from a sincere place, was “you’re trying to do too many things at once” or “stick to your profession.” In the time I was getting to know myself, I would often seek out the advice of people who were adeptly more qualified to offer it in their knowledge of the subject, but less so in their knowledge of me. This has caused me to abandon projects & to work in a way that made me unhappy. 

The first piece of advice, the "you’re trying to do too many things at once” has its uses, although will of course differ from person to person & is open to interpretation. Knowing myself, I know that I have a limited attention span on one topic. I can work on a specific task for perhaps 90 mins to 2 hours, then I need something entirely different. That being said, I’m quite happy working 14-16 hour days if sufficiently engaged in what I’m doing, and can go back to projects after an hour or so of diverted attention. This is where having 2 businesses or focuses has been extremely useful. 

I’ve also found that when I stress test the boundaries of my skills, or focus them on an entirely different requirement, my mind is in fact being trained in a different way. This, again, has proved extremely valuable & allowed me to be highly productive. I know I work well to time constraints, so allocating an allotted time to a piece of work in line with my attention span helps me to stay focused, and the "reward" of being able to work on something else once its done keeps me in check.

Some notable people from history who were able to transcend one particular discipline at a time, and excellent role models to attest to the positive consequences of such outlooks, are Benjamin Franklin & Leonardo Da Vinci. Both were able to pursue not only a number of careers throughout their lifetime, but overlap and intertwine interests that were vastly different. The rounded interests expressed by each are testament to the value a diverse spectrum of pursuits can add to an individual.

The second piece of advice, "to focus on your area of expertise", is true to a degree but can be interpreted in such a way to sound limiting. As we change, so does what motivates us, and invariably this is manifested in what we want to put our time into. I loved football and working with kids. This developed communication skills (and patience) affording me the ability to clearly communicate sometimes complex information in a way that’s understandable.

 As my motivation turned years later into helping companies communicate their brand mission on social media, those communication skills came into play in an entirely different context. The way to interpret this advice is to learn what your uniquely good at, improve upon it, but don’t limit the application of this skill to one industry/business/job. The days where we would be limited to one career are other! You only need to learn the industry, the skills are transferable, even in the most contracting industries. 

In terms of advice, my advice would be, it’s not one size fits all. Those who know better, do not necessarily know you. Get to know yourself, and then find a way to work at the intersection of what you’re good at & what you’re interested in. If it doesn’t exist, create it by finding a problem to solve, or start by helping one person solve their problem.