It’s happened a few times now. I’m teaching a class, or sitting in a circle with women at an event, and someone raises their hand to participate in the discussion.
She says, “I just have so many interests. I’m excited by so many different things. I try to do too much. I end up juggling a million things. What can I do about that? Any recommendations on how I can FOCUS?”
The first time someone said this to me, I had a hunch about what to say back, so I simply said it: “Is this – the juggling, the million interests – actually a problem, or did you somehow get the message from someone else that it was a problem?”
“Hmmm….interesting,” she replied. Then she sat quietly for a few moments. “I guess it’s not a problem – I actually love everything I’m doing and I don’t feel scattered in the way people seem to think I would, given how much I have going on. Sometimes things get very overfull and chaotic, but I don’t actually mind that – I even kind of enjoy it.”
This – this conversation – keeps happening again and again: women are sure they aren’t focused enough, when it turns out that their abundance of interests are serving them beautifully. It’s as if there is a special kind of inner critic weighing them down, the “make choices and focus!” critic.
Here’s the ridiculous narrative most of us got as we grew up: You pick your “interests.” You are allotted a hobby or two, and a professional focus. Then you just stick with those things, and live a sane, serene kind of life, where you have plenty of time for your work focus, your hobby, your family, and for making a lovely dinner every night! The implicit message is: If you are sane, if you are strong, if you have a good moral compass, you’ll be able to focus. If you can’t, you should feel a little ashamed, and like a bit of a mess. People who can’t choose a narrow focus never complete or accomplish anything.
So what if this wasn’t true, at all?
Or what if it was true in an era when people stayed in jobs for 30 years and needed a very specific technical expertise to get a good job — but is not true in the era that is ours?
Or what if this idea came from a patriarchal culture obsessed with labels, categories, compartmentalization and “focus? A culture terrified of anything having to do with the messiness, the overfull-ness, and the mysterious connections between the disparate parts of life?
And what if you could totally let go of that internal voice of should saying you should love less and focus more, and instead begin to see the beauty and wisdom of each choice you made to place something in your market basket?
I know a lot of women who love a million things. We really only love a few things, but those few manifest in a million ways, and we love the diverse manifestations.
We juggle. But our juggling doesn’t actually look like a panicked, clumsy rush to catch all the balls. (You know, the kind that graces all the magazine and book covers, showing the crazy women pulling her hair out trying to manage it all?) Our juggling doesn’t look like that. It looks like the expert’s juggling. It’s graceful, beautiful, practiced. It’s a sight to see. It’s a gorgeous dance.
If you feel like you have too many interests, if you feel like you lack focus, I urge you to rigorously ask yourself: is there *really* a problem here? A problem in my getting things done? A problem in my working myself to exhaustion? If yes, address those specific problems – don’t hack away at what you love or tell yourself you need to love more narrowly.
If the answer is no, if in fact there is no real problem, then you’ve probably just absorbed a kind of criticism often labelled at creative women: focus. But the people who were threatened by your garden of interests, don’t know you, and they don’t know your rhythms. Only you do.