Narrowing Your Focus to Expand Your Options

What do you want to be when you grow up?  Do you wear so many hats that their cumulative weight obstructs your true identity?

Your various life pursuits — such as finding a job or making a career change — will best lead to personal happiness if you keep them aligned with your life’s purpose.  It’s just a matter of knowing what that purpose is, and pursuing it.

Sounds simple, right?

But what about folks, like myself, who are genuinely passionate about and qualified for MANY pursuits?  When there are many, many things that float your boat, how do you decide which body of water into which you will launch your ship?

Some would say, “Why impose a limit? Sail the 7 seas!”  In fact, this has pretty much been my philosophy during my entire life:  If I’m interested, I pursue it.  If I’m passionate about it, I pursue it with a vengeance.

In the business world, I’m known as a generalist.  I’ve written about the considerations regarding a generalist vs. a specialist in terms of the best hire for a job.  And if every hiring authority would read that article and agree with it, there’d be no reason for this article.  But, that’s not going to happen.

What’s a Generalist To Do?

If we are the sum total of our parts, then who am I, exactly?

My résumé reads as if it incorporates half a dozen people rather than one:  A litigation and communications expert, humanitarian, behaviorist, author, founder, Vice President, Managing Partner, Director, General Contractor, Corporate Consultant, speaker, life coach, mentor, volunteer, cake decorating CEO who is experienced in the legal, medical, construction, internet, publishing, and philanthropic industries?  I mean — it just looks and sounds unreal. (Okay … I don’t actually include cake decorating on my résumé, but it is something that has produced income over the years.)

How in the world is a recruitment professional or a hiring authority supposed to read my credentials and, in spite of a highly organized and well written résumé, sort through it all in such a way that s/he can conclude that I am qualified for the position?

The Issue, Under a Microscope

The Scenario: Let’s say that I am attempting to obtain a job as the COO of a humanitarian nonprofit.  The position requires executive-level management experience for a budget of at least 2 million.  After exhausting all efforts to establish a direct connection with the CEO or Board of Directors, I send a great cover-letter and my credentials package, making sure to follow all of the submission requirements, and tailoring my letter to the needs of the employer.

Employer Perspective: As the hiring authority begins to read my complex, non-traditional, multi-industry experience, s/he thinks, “Why in the hell is this person applying for this job?”  And, before turning to Page 3, my carefully prepared documents hit the shredder, or the delete key is quickly activated.

Making Sense of it All ?

Candidate Perspective: When I send in my résumé, I am thinking, “I’m a successful leader who has managed a large budget and has dedicated 13+ years to humanitarian concerns.  Perfect!”  I know that the skills required of me as the VP of a law firm easily transfer to the needed skills for running a nonprofit.  I think, “Big budget management, as required in the construction industry, easily transfers to big budget management for the particular nonprofit.”  I also know that my achievements with leading various other programs to #1 world-wide status or maintaining a 95% success rate in spite of a small budget requires skills that easily translate to the needs of a nonprofit leadership role.”  And so on.

Skills are skills.

But, my ability to connect the dots does not translate to the hiring authority’s ability to do the same.  They simply have too many résumés to evaluate, a stack that will inevitably include the experience of someone else who can say, “I’ve been the COO of a nonprofit for the immediate past 8 years, operating a 10 million dollar budget.”  And regardless of whether I would do a better job than this other person who may have spent his entire career performing at a mediocre level, at best, he reads better on paper.  Thus, I am passed over for positions which are perfectly suited to my skill-set.

What’s My Problem?

I often review and critique résumés for clients, and I am often hired to revise those documents.  And though I get excellent feedback such as, “I finally got a job using the résumé you wrote for me,” I am far less talented when it comes to my own document.  Thus, I sought and received the opinions from several executive-level professionals on how I can improve my résumé.

In a nutshell, they each gave me essentially the same advice.  Along with comments like, “It’s hard to tell what it is that you’re offering,” and “Try to make it shorter,” they each said, emphatically:

Narrow your focus.

Easier said than done, my friends.  Easier said than done.

Narrowing the Focus

I’ve spent many a sleepless night lately trying to narrow my focus.  Just when I think I know what I want to be when I grow up, something else tickles my fancy and I think, “Well, maybe it would be better if I [insert one of a number of verbs here].”

Do you know those people who just seem to be really good at whatever they do, no matter what it is?  Didn’t we all know kids like that back in high school, the one who seemed to join every club, win every award, take home straight A’s each quarter, and date the prettiest girl / cutest boy?

Well, I’d like to say, “That was me,” but it wasn’t — not by a long-shot.  However, as an adult, I can fairly say that I have a bit of a green thumb when it comes to business.  Regardless of the venture, I do quite well.  Granted, it takes a lot of hard work — but I succeed because of my commitment and passion, and my communications skills.  It’s a winning combination.  Yet, I’m failing miserably in my attempt to narrow my focus.

Oddly enough, I’m the type of person who excels when it comes to making decisions.  It’s one reason I excel in leadership roles.  But alas, I, too, am human and, as such, I have flaws.  Deciding on a narrow focus is proving to be exceedingly difficult.

I’ve made lists.  I’ve created charts.  I’ve journaled.  I’ve brainstormed with friends.  And still, I find myself unable to combine all of my skills and interests (or abandon some) and meld them into ONE specific, clearly defined specialty.

Yesterday, in a meeting with a V.I.P. who presented to me an outstanding proposal, the issue of a narrowed focus became paramount to that proposal.  In other words, if I can narrow my focus — decide upon just one thing at which I am or become expert — he could very easily become the catalyst for my future success.

As if finding an immediate source of reasonable income weren’t sufficient motivation, I now was presented with an even greater reason to bite the bullet and make a decision.  But, how?

The Solution: Playing Games

For me, the process of narrowing my passionate interests is equivalent to forcing me to make a choice between my children!  “Sorry, but you can only pick one. Just do it!”  It’s impossible!  But, it is also time to overcome the impossible with regard to my life’s pursuit.

So, I devised a mind-game which just might trick me into reaching the critical decision I don’t otherwise seem capable of making.

Much like the philosophical debate about how to choose which person to throw out of a sinking boat, I set to the task of playing the game.

The game goes sort of like this:

I have been given 5 millions dollars.  But, I can’t spend it just any ol’ way.  My use of the money is conditioned upon my selecting a cause, and spending every penny of it on that one and only venture.  One cause.  One venture.  Only one, regardless of what that “one” happens to be.

How will I spend the money?

The answer to the question becomes my narrowed focus.  The game forces me to appreciate the ONE thing about which I am most passionate, even if I’ve yet to recognize it.

As I play the game, I’m back to making lists — but this time I have a mission around which I can wrap my mind, that seems “less impossible.”  This time, the decision I make is no longer just about what I want or don’t want.  This time, I have the duty to carefully select which item on the list will get the $5 million dollars — money I sure don’t want to waste, right?

And the Winner Is …

You’ll have to stay tuned.  When I know, I’ll let YOU know!

~ Lynda C. Watts

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3 Responses to Narrowing Your Focus to Expand Your Options

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