Here’s the scenario: You have a flower bed. It’s empty right now, but once you plant anything in it, other things will start to grow spontaneously (don’t measure this against a real garden it won’t help the exercise). Also, you’re only allowed to grow two plants at any given time. In order for two plants to live there must be no other plants in the shared soil. You pick whatever plants you want (an orchid and a strawberry plant for example). Once you plant those, in order to keep them alive you have to do all the typical things you would think of like water them, but also, you have to constantly be uprooting and removing other plants that try to grow there.
The physics of the flower bed (again, not real) only allow for two plants to grow. Once a third, fourth, or fifth plant begin to grow, all the plants die and you’re stuck with a flowerbed full of dead plants.
Sounds simple enough, right? Just plant two things and then remove anything that comes up. No big deal.
So, now let’s leave metaphor land and go to real life. The flowerbed is your life. The plants are your goals. As a limited singular human being you can only accomplish x amount of goals at any given time. I used the number ‘2’ in the metaphor, because I think that’s what my brain’s capacity is, but you can judge that for yourself.
If you’re like me, you wanna do a bunch more than two things. I wanna act, write, sing, do stand up, improvise, teach, do voice over, hosting, etc. But I have proven to myself that when I choose to pursue more than two goals all of them suffer. This is the classic idea of ‘spreading yourself too thin.’ I’ve heard it my whole life. I believed it to an extent. But I still wasn’t growing in any venture to the extent I wanted. Why was that?
The reason is because while I was focusing all my attention on just a few goals (watering just two plants) I failed to remove other growing plants. I gave up stand up when I moved to Chicago to pursue improv. So, I removed a plant. But what I didn’t do was go on active patrol for emerging plants. I said ‘yes’ to everything that came my way. I performed so many shows for so many entities – some of which I didn’t really want to do. But I didn’t know how to say ‘no.’ I didn’t even know how to assess what I should say ‘no’ to.
Before I knew it I was constantly busy, but doing very little advancing.
My point is that you have to be in charge of not only pursuing your goals, but also of eschewing the things that look like good ideas, but do not help your goals. They are well intentioned, but they are distractions. Would you rather look like the circle on the left (that has sent many arrows a small distance) or on the right (that has sent one arrow and only one arrow a far distance)?
Don’t just water and take care of your plants by focusing on them. Take care of them by removing the others vying for space in your limited flowerbed.
PS. The image comes from the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown that I highly recommend to everyone.