This is the second in a two-part series on the gifts and perils of focus in your creative life and your life in general. If you missed Part I, you can read it here.
When and why do you need focus? How do you find it? What blessings does it confer? When does it get to be dangerous or too much? How do we dance with focus and variety to live rich, full, beautiful lives?
Distraction and Focus
I have always thought of myself as a very focused person. Being a Sagittarian, my centaur’s arrow is always pointed at some goal. I have tremendous ambition and drive. And the passion to fuel it.
When I am at work on a creative project, I hate to be disturbed. And for good reason. When inspired, we enter a kind of trance state and cultivate a laser focus that, for me and many artists, is central to creating our best work. To be interrupted once in that state can be extremely costly and painful.
But recently I have also begun to see how distractible I am. I read seven or eight books at a time, switching between them, taking months, even years, to finish some. I start creative projects, leave them partially-done, and hop onto another one.
I’ll make notes to revise a poem and then forget to type up the revisions, so piles of paper with my scrawlings lie around my studio in confusion. I sign up for multiple classes at once and then have too much to do.
I’m filled with ideas, make a jillion notes, and always want to bite off more than I can chew. I love to set goals in many areas of my life. But I often wind up with too many going at once, too many balls in the air. It’s painful to choose between them, to eliminate some, to prioritize. To focus.
But it’s vitally necessary.
The Costs of a Lack of Focus
Without focus, I feel like I’m not getting anywhere. I’m a dabbler rather than gaining mastery. (For a truly great read on this, check out George Leonard’s Mastery.) There’s nothing to show for all the time spent creating and learning. I feel stretched thin. Overwhelmed and stressed. I get disappointed in myself and frustrated. I’m not reaching my dreams.
Yet, focus, isn’t always easy or simple. Recently, I got crystal clear that my number one creative focus right now needs to be the book I’m writing on how to foster an inspired, passionate creative life.
I set it as my Breakthrough Dream at the start of this past year. But, for the first half of the year, I didn’t follow through on all the steps I needed to take, nor set aside enough time to work on it, nor track how I was doing.
I let my focus drift away because I was juggling too many goals and desires, and overloaded with other commitments. And I wasn’t using the time I did have in a focused way. When I realized that, I felt upset. What have I been doing all this time?!
At the start of September, I signed up for an expensive-but-totally-worth-it online book writing intensive and got really serious about the book. I have made a ton of progress since.
It’s way more work and way slower going than I ever imagined. I thought the book would be done by the end of this year. Ha!
The Danger of Too Much Focus
In October, I decided to make the book my sole creative focus and stop working on poems or my creative learning goals. Within weeks, I felt dried up, no inspiration, juice, or joy. The book became a slog. I just wanted to reach the finish line that is still far away.
In my recent profound time of inner and outer decluttering, I realized I needed to bring the joy back to the writing. I need to keep my focus, but enjoy the process. Fall in love with the book again.
At the same time, I need to cultivate enough other things that bring juice to my creative life: poetry, learning new things, sharing work with others. I need to dance with focus and variety to find the balance that keeps me moving forward powerfully and also keeps my life rounded and rich.
So, I’m starting my studio time each day with a little reading and writing of poetry, before diving into spending hours revising the book. I feel entranced with the process again. I can hear the book speaking to me. Thrilling!
I also have to hold my deadlines with a gentle hand. Diligently moving towards them, but also honoring that life shows up in surprising ways. I recently was ill and couldn’t do anything at all for two weeks. That shifted my timelines!
Right now, the chapter I’m editing is taking much longer than I thought it would. This isn’t because I’m slacking off or not giving it the hours I set aside for it. I’m actually giving it more. But there’s more work to do, and I keep getting great ideas to improve on it. If I am too focused on the deadline, I start to feel anxious and bad, and that infects my project with the wrong energy. If I am too hasty in my work, the work isn’t good.
Sometimes deadlines we have to adjust a deadline. Other times call for a burst of intense dedication to reach the deadline set. That can feel invigorating.
Years ago, when I was very close to finishing the novel I was writing, but was stalling around writing the ending, I gave myself one week to finish it. The deadline was Monday morning, even if I had to stay up all night on Sunday. I made it easily without any loss of sleep, and was happy with the ending.
The Blessings of Focus
Focus is a gift. It can bring your life into alignment with what matters most to you. It can bring you prosperity, peace, love, fulfillment, and joy. I used it years ago to bring my beloved into my life.
But, too much of it can make you a maniacal, miserable, one-sided fool. Or, aimed in the wrong direction, it can wreak havoc on your life and our world. We see this among many people currently in power.
Yet, without focus, those of us who are big dreamers cannot create the beautiful, extraordinary things we imagine or lives we desire. We cannot contribute to the world in the ways we long to.
So, there’s a dance between focus and variety. There’s wisdom and discernment needed to align with your heart’s dreams and not mind or ego dreams, which will only leave you empty, exhausted, and confused.
If you’d love powerful coaching to bring the gifts of focus into your life in a balanced way, check out my Creative Life Coaching. I would love to play with you and support you in creating an artful, soulful life.
Great content! Keep up the good work!