The Overwhelm-I-Have-Too-Many-Interests-Thing

By February 7, 2012 36 Comments

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.




Join the discussion 36 Comments

  • Rachel Moore says:

    I love this so much! Deal with the actual problem, not the imagined “problem” of having “too many interests.” Yes! I’ve always enjoyed variety in my hobbies and my work life, and I’ve sometimes encountered criticism for not being an “expert” at something. Instead I’m pretty good at just about everything, and I like that just fine. 🙂 Thanks for posting this, Tara!

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  • tears. . I long to find a group of women who get me. . like this article gets me. Thanks for sharing. I am a new email subscriber. I found you thru a pin on Pinterest. I look forward to “getting to know you and your site”.

  • Paula Onysko says:

    Love this! I have lots of interests and play lots of different roles — many that ebb and flow. I couldn’t imagine my life any other way. Instead of criticizing that, I now focus and teach women on how to move gracefully through their many interests instead of judging them as a problem. Thanks for this reminder that being multi-faceted is a gift!

    Love and admiration,

  • Amyra Mah says:

    This has helped me so much. Thanks for sharing this refreshing piece of wisdom, Tara. After posting my focus for Playing Big in the Facebook community, I felt exactly this doubt creeping in, that maybe I need to ‘scale down’ all the things I want to actualize, even if they’re tied to one umbrella project. Reading this has made me realise that I can give myself permission to pursud my various interests.

  • Kety says:

    I love this articles. I just recently had a conversation with a dear friend from the opposite sex who told me that I was not focus because I have too many interests. My answer was is good to take risks and I love it. Everything I am doing are related some how. I felt that I needed to defent myself. Thanking Tara for sharing this articles!!!!!

  • This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say it’s okay to be interested and passionate about LOTS of things, instead of saying “pick one.” I’ve had a varied work and “outside work” life forever and it feels so freeing to tell myself that it’s OK, instead of feeling like a failure for not finding the ONE THING. Thank you. I absolutely love this post.

  • Tara~Thanks for this illuminating alter-take on all-things focus. As someone w/multiple complementary projects & interests (and with multiple writing voices), I appreciate the sympathetic take. I think there’s a term or two floating about called something like “poly-passionates” or something comparable to polymaths. On the other hand, focus is a treasure. I cried to myself 15 yrs ago when I had lost my ability to concentrate. Without focus, it’s much too noisy “in there.” And I shouted w/glee when I retrieved it. Focus actually allows me to juggle with grace (Look at this guy whom I admire: and complete projects. Juggle with grace & glee. With focus. And when you drop a ball, laugh.

    But ‘patriarchal’? I watch my toddler girl systematically sort and organize her blocks according to shape & color. And then of course make a lovely mess. 🙂

    Thanks for the good musings.

  • Lina says:

    Thanks Tara! Where are you based? Are you planing any trips to San Francisco in the near future? Would love to connect.

  • Jackie K says:

    Oh! thank you for this!

  • Wow. I love this so much — thank you, thank you!!

  • Mariella says:

    It’s kind of funny that this has been something I have been thinking about a lot lately. I even had some arguments with my husband about that. I have been beating myself up for the last month telling to my self how inconsistent I am and how ridiculous it is that I have so many interests. But it’s nice, it’s nice to know it is actually ok, thanks for remind it to me.

  • Pamela says:

    Oh my gosh. I’ve been beating myself up, especially this last week, on having too many crafts going on and not staying focused on the “main” craft. (As I come home today with a huge bag of paper mache boxes that has nothing to do with my cards.) I, too, am not great at any one thing, but love to do many crafts and try new crafting ideas. Guess, I’m sort of a jack-of-all-crafts but master of none. I’m also wanting to build my hobby to a business but the inner beating of voices when I was young still ring in my head that “your not good enough, you never finish what you start, a project you completed has many flaws, etc. I’ve always rated myself as a grade of “B”. While my friends won blue ribbons at the fair, I won red or white. Well, at least I won something! -smile-
    Thank you Tara for the post. It’s truly inspiring.

  • Andrea Olson says:

    Tara – I love this, of course! When I was trying to figure out my online “niche,” I couldn’t decide – because I was interested in a multitude of things. I’ve had a multitude of careers, hobbies, and interests. It’s only recently that I’ve accepted that I will never have just “one thing” – I will have many. And, I’ll “focus” just as long as I want to or until I have gotten what I came for (sometimes unknown at the outset but later revealed). Thanks for a great reminder about the importance of embracing our possibilities!!

  • Tara says:

    Thanks everyone for the warm words and lovely comments. Andrea – I love your insight that we can bring in focus when we need it toward a particular end. That feels so different than having a general “should” around focus.
    Pamela – sounds like it is really time to question those inner critic voices so you can have the joy of doing your art!
    Jeffery – wait – couldn’t tell what you meant by the “Patriarchal?” I agree that focus can be a treasure – sometimes. But I think we have a cultural misunderstanding about what focus really means, and I also see this phenomenon of people holding a should about becoming more generally focused when there is in fact “no problem.” 🙂

  • Hope says:

    So glad I found your blog and emails through Plan B Nation. Really speaks to me–although I’m not an entrepreneur. I am trying to add paid writing work to my life. I guess “reinventing” myself applies to me. I find your words inspiring.

  • Hi Tara,

    Thanks for the interesting and thought provoking post. For me, too many interests really was a significant problem. By allowing myself to be pulled in so many directions, I rarely completed anything. I often felt like a failure because although I did many things somewhat well, I was not making any real, significant, or useful progress in anything. Paring down my interests, letting go of things that were fun, but not really meaningful, has freed me to pursue the really good stuff. It’s those true callings that are worthy of my time, not every little shiny object that attracts my interest.

    With love,

  • Hilary says:

    Thank you for this information to ponder. I’ve often thought poorly of myself because I couldn’t limit myself to one artistic medium. Truly, it is more than OK to do what I’m doing. It’s about time I embrace it. I’m very fortunate to be multi-talented. I’m strong where I always thought I was weak!

  • Thank you..great post…I am the woman that you speak about…I realized yesterday what is the matter with me doing a million things is I need a sabbatical…that’s all…a time to unplug..recharge…most countries have sabbaticals and long vacations…not in America…but I can take one for myself..and continue on with my brilliant..full…many balls in the air life.

  • Oh goodness!! I have been the steady, meditative, Queen of Serene, for so many years….and suddenly now at 52 something has shifted in me and I am ready to explode with “doing”. Thank you for the permission to let my creative self run wild for a bit, without judgment, without the patriarchal voice of my father saying, “time to work now”. Such timely words for me. Thanks for bringing light to this and setting us all free.

  • Sunita says:

    I’ve always been told I was too scattered, but over the years, I’ve grown to love my varied interests. Thanks for reinforcing that it’s ok to be doing a million things and loving it!

  • Carla Wilson says:

    Tara, thank you for this post. I feel like I have permission to continue with my many passions because I love what I’m doing!

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  • Chitra Chandrashekhar says:

    This has been reassuring and a great motivation to relook at my work pattern while continuing with my varied pursuits which to me seem to connect to one thing eventually, I call it human experience!

  • Zoe Edmonds says:

    This was so wonderful and a great relief to read! I had the same hunch–that the idea of focus (a left brain attribute) is a culturally bound value, and as women (and people) who have many interests we need to allow that to be okay, even celebrated!

    Here is a post I wrote about the subject of focus on my blog:

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  • Shaun h says:

    Thanks Tara for the article, my partner keeps telling me that I can’t have too many interests but like all the replies here I realise I’m not alone and should be happy with myself, just need to finish more things I guess

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  • Emily says:

    I’ve spent tons of time looking for people who have lots of interests and don’t want to compromise by choosing only one as a career. I’m so glad I came across this post and found a group of like-minded individuals. Thank you for this!

  • A-mazing. I had never thought of it this way, as I definitely get the, ‘you’re not focused enough’ inner critic voice, especially now as I’m fully pursuing my calling and trying to juggle the massive numbers of creative ideas, which feel so energizing and the fun is in working on them because they all FIT TOGETHER!! 😀

  • […] is equally thought-provoking. This week, she shared with us her thoughts on this notion that “I have too many interests,” and the cultural stew that tells women we should do less and focus more. Her thoughts, […]

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