On focus

While taking her bath, Sierra took great pains to studiously focus on a yellow rubber duck. She analyzed every curve. She touched it. She tasted it. She gave every ounce of her attention to the duck, learning every contour and soaking in every aspect of its being. She took the duck in as only a baby can. With amazing focus.

It’s not just the duck. It’s everything: the carpet, a sippy cup, a spoon, a stuffed animal, Becket’s fur, my hair and balding scalp. It’s a focus that pours every ounce of attention into learning, into standing or reaching or rolling, as if she was fully aware that life is like Super Mario Brothers, with the next level coming only after completing the current one.

I suffer from the opposite, as many of us do – I overdo things, overestimate the time I have available and pile too much on my plate. We’ve all bitten off more than we can conceivably finish, choosing ambition over careful selection. And your overestimation might look like mine, in one way or another.

I currently run two blogs and contribute to a third. I serve on one council board and am about to join a second, not to mention local committees and organizations. I work, I hang out with my family (both close and far), I participate in several fantasy sports leagues and I read voraciously.

Some activities are crucial to my career, my passions and my personal sense of duty. Others are busywork, frivolous activities that, while fun or rewarding, are simply too much.

I’ve taken all of these things on for one reason or another. You’ve done the same thing. We all have. Whether it’s another public office or another television show, an invitation for the family to come over for dinner or a commitment to dinner with a distant friend, as a society we have a habit of misjudging our free time, as if we’re Oliver, constantly asking, “Please, sir, can we have more to do?”

With these extra commitments comes a dangerous consequence: I’ve seen my attention wane, my available resources dry up and my life become more hectic. There’s a gradual thinning of focus. Our attention is spread through too many buckets, watered down in order to fill each one, given only a corner of our mind (if even). And often, it’s for no reason other than a need to add to my persona, like going through the seventeen layers of a Facebook profile and meticulously keeping all of them up to date.

Over the next few months, I will prepare to shed some of those obligations. I’ve made a mental list of my activities. Those things on the bottom? I’m knocking them off or reallocating the attention I give them. If they can run on their own, they’ll run on their own. If I can make a clean break, consider it done. (Anyone want to take over Misc. Asst.?)

We enjoy listing things on our resumes, announcing new events and making our voice heard in several different arenas. But if we aren’t careful, we risk diluting that voice to a whisper. We risk losing focus on what we’re really good at, or what we really enjoy.

Why cut our focus into shards when it functions so much better as a whole?

And why does it take a little girl playing in her bath water to make me realize things like this?

This was lovingly handwritten on March 2nd, 2008