I just finished a book called, The dip: a little book that teaches you when to quit (and when to stick) by Seth Godin. His main point seems to be that you should pick one thing to focus all of your attention on -- something that you have a reasonably good chance of becoming exceptionally good at -- and you should quit everything else that is taking your attention and energy away from that main focus. This main thing you decide to focus on must be something you can stick with through "the dip", the difficult time you will face before you become successful, "the long slog between starting and mastery". You must decide you will persevere until you become the best in the world.
He says, "Quit the wrong stuff. Stick with the right stuff. Have the guts to do one or the other."
He says that we make a mistake in thinking "being well rounded is the secret to success." He says, "in a free market, we reward the exceptional", "...the real success goes to those who obsess." And, "the next time you catch yourself being average when you feel like quitting, realize that you have only two good choices: Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers."
The wrong time to quit something is when you are in "the dip", so it's best to figure out if you think you can survive "the dip" before you begin. Some reasons you might end up quitting (because you didn't think ahead) are because "you run out of time... you run out of money... you get scared... you're not serious about it... you lose interest or enthusiasm or settle for being mediocre... you focus on the short term instead of the long... you pick the wrong thing at which to be the best in the world (because you don't have the talent)."
"Is it possible that you're just not good enough? That you (or your team) just don't have enough talent to be the best in the world? Sure it's possible. In fact, if your chosen area is the cello, or speed skating, then I might even say it's probable. But in just about every relevant area I can think of, no, it's not likely. You are good enough."
So, I picked up this little 80 page book because a friend had recommended it and also because there was an article in the NY Times about it the other day. I was hoping it would help me to sort out some things about my life and career focus. I have to say I found that it was making a lot of sense to me until I got to the line, "if your chosen area is the cello"... There I was reading along, deciding to make some major changes in my life, when I realized suddenly that maybe he didn't intend his advice to apply to me after all...
I had a little trouble figuring out where to take him totally literally and where to assume he was exaggerating to make a point. I know I will never be the best soprano in the world, because my voice isn't big/loud enough or high enough to compete for that coveted spot (which is obviously totally subjective anyway). But, if I re-defined what "the world" and "soprano" mean and tried to be the best singer of Handel arias or something that fits me better, it seems more feasible.
What else would I have a reasonable chance of becoming the "best in the world" at if I quit everything else and focused only on it? I think it's an interesting question. But, I'm not sure I think someone who advocates obsessing is someone I want to take advice from. I think it's probably good to streamline your life's focus and not waste your time and energy on dead-end projects, but to what end? And, what happens when you finally become the best in the world? Will you be happy?