Focus02 September 2012
I spent six weeks backpacking around Thailand and Laos this summer. It was a pretty poor financial decision, but it was worth it.
Just before I left the UK, I removed all the old content from this blog after deciding that I didn’t like most of what I’d written. At the time, I fully intended to start blogging again in earnest when I got home and make a big effort with this site.
That changed after an unexpected turn of events in Bangkok.
One day, towards the end of my traveIs, I opened up Google Reader and saw a new post from Dan Andrews at TropicalMBA.com: 17 Predictions About the Future of Internet Marketing.
Prediction #16 I found particularly interesting:
“If you want to start a blog about entrepreneurship or personal development and you don’t have an angle that gets everyone in the room FREAKING PUMPED and saying they’d buy products from such a publisher… don’t do it. It’s getting harder.”
Even more interesting was the footnote:
“Ian and I are in Bangkok and going for a few drinks tomorrow night if any readers want to join us. Email me for details.”
So a prominent and successful blogger and entrepreneur, who I’m a fan of and follow, is arranging a meet-up in the city I happen to be in? I’ve done some stupid things this summer, but I’m not stupid enough to pass up that opportunity.
24 hours later, I made my way to a bar called Cheap Charlie’s and met Dan, Ian, and a bunch of other travellers. I had a long, interesting conversation with Dan, and learned a lot. He’s a really friendly, genuine guy. (He’s also really tall.)
Naturally, I asked him about his most recent blog post, and why he didn’t think people should be starting personal development blogs.
“Look,” he told me, “if you’ve got a really original site concept and you’re willing to work your ass off, go for it. It’s harder than it used to be to get noticed, but it’s not impossible.” (I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but this was the gist of it.)
“But, and I don’t mean to be harsh, if you’re just going to create a generic ‘follow me on my journey’ blog where you write about yourself and all the lessons you’re learning, you’re fucked, dude. No-one cares. Steve Pavlina and ZenHabits already exist. You can’t compete with that.”
Shit. That’s pretty much exactly the kind of blog I’d been planning on starting. But what if I don’t care about the size of my audience, if I’m just writing for myself as a side project, trying to express myself, network, build a bit of web presence?
“I see where you’re coming from,” Dan told me. “Tons of people ask me that, and for some of them it’s maybe a good idea. But the real danger isn’t that you won’t get any readers. It’s that you’ll split your energy. You have to focus on one thing at time.
“All the time you spend blogging is time that you’re not spending actually getting any real work done. I was building businesses for three years before I started blogging about it. If I’d been blogging from the start, I don’t know if my businesses would have ever taken off. It’s dangerous, man.”
We talked a lot more about this, and I got a taxi home with my head spinning. I wasn’t quite sure I understood what Dan had told me, but I knew I needed to wrap my head around it. After all, he’s wealthy and successful and I’m not, so I should probably listen to what he has to say.
Eventually, after mulling it over for a few days, and listening to the podcast that Dan put out around the same time, something clicked in my brain and I understood.
I love writing. There’s barely a day that goes past when I don’t spill my thoughts onto paper or my laptop screen. I can’t see that changing any time soon. What’s changed is my intentions for this site.
Not too long ago, I thought I wanted to blog professionally, to become the next Chris Guillebeau and change the world one WordPress post at a time. If I hadn’t had that conversation with Dan, I’d have followed through on that original idea. I’d have poured hours down the drain over the last few weeks writing content that no-one would read, failing to gain any kind of traction and probably spouting a load of embarrassing bullshit on topics I’m not qualified to write about.
(The previous paragraph might sound horribly ironic, but bear with me a minute.)
I still write a lot, but I haven’t let it become my main focus. Instead, I’ve been putting my energy into more worthwhile things, which has resulted in me getting a pretty cool job that I genuinely enjoy and that I’m learning loads from. I feel much better about this than I would if I’d concentrated on blogging instead. It’s been a lucky escape.
One thing Dan said to me has stuck in my head above all:
“You need to be a professional,” he said, “and that means focusing on just on thing. You know what the difference is between an amateur and a professional? An amateur wakes up in the morning and thinks ‘there are so many things I’m interested in’, then he tries to do all of them at once. A professional wakes up and thinks ‘of course I’m interested in all these things. But today I need to get to work on building my business.’* Or writing, or saving people money on their tax returns, or whatever the hell it is you want to do for a living. Once you’ve sorted that out, then you can start working on other stuff. Not before.”
Bam. Lightning bolt of clarity. Blindfold lifted from my eyes. There’s the mistake I’ve been making my entire life: I’m an amateur. How many things have I tried to split my energy between over the last few years? Guitar. Writing. Programming. Web design. Travel. Running. Songwriting. Languages. University. The list goes on. Not that I haven’t achieved anything, but if I’d concentrated on just one of those areas instead of spreading myself too thin, who knows where I could be by now? Probably a lot closer to my goals than I actually am.
It’s difficult. I’d love to be a virtuoso guitarist, masterful writer, expert programmer, serial entrepreneur, marathon runner, first-class student and world-travelling polyglot, but the only way to become any of those things is to give up on the others, at least temporarily. The decision to focus on one thing is the decision to _not _focus on a million other things, and it’s hard to accept that I can’t achieve everything I want to. But only by accepting it am I going to make any meaningful progress at anything.
I’d write if no-one was reading (and no-one is yet), and I’m not going to completely abandon this blog, but I’m very glad I had that conversation with Dan or the second half of my 2012 would be full of wasted time and missed opportunities.
Time to focus.