Finding Comfort as a Surface Dweller
A case for those who struggle to pick and stick to a topic
Find a niche.
As a marketing professional, this is a key piece of advice I’ve given to entrepreneurs looking for their next big thing. Finding a niche provides focus and focus helps you build. Being unfocused on a desired outcome is, quite simply, the fastest route to failure. Niches allow one to develop a level of knowledge and specialization that, in an ever-complex world where no one could possibly know everything, has a strong correlation with success. Those with a high level of knowledge in any area can solve problems for customers or inspire readers and that is bound to attract some attention. And that attention is deserved.
Unfortunately, following this advice is anathema to my brain. It’s the reason I’ve struggled to write newsletters, finish side projects, or become a master in any single area. There are too many topics that capture my interest. Let’s just say, if I was a gravedigger for ideas, there would be a lot of shallow graves.
Becoming a true expert, not the social media kind like myself, is hard work, but the path to success has already been cleared and paved.
So, if deep-diving and specialization are a fairly surefire way to succeed then shouldn’t us surface-dwelling generalists just adapt?
I have tried. And I have failed more than once to make this change. Like an addict, I’ve told myself that this time, for this new interest, I will dig deeper into it than any of the interests that have come before. And thirty-three years later I’m still a surface dweller, but, for the first time ever, I’m just going to embrace it.
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Rise Up Surface Dwellers
This inability to focus on a specific area of interest has definitely had impacts on my career; some good, some bad. I’m never the smartest person in the room about any given topic, but I’ve almost never been completely oblivious to any conversation that’s happening. And that ability to be involved in any conversation is the closest thing I have to a depth in terms of skillset because…
Connections are the Key!
Whether it’s networking with other people or solving a problem, those who make connections, succeed. If you talk to most people that “know” me, they’d tell you I’m outgoing, but in all honesty, being around other people takes a lot of out of me (unless alcohol is involved, but the downsides to that are much, much worse. Cue three year old). It’s less a fear of saying the wrong thing and more just a mental drain to be engaged. However, I do realize that any time my career has advanced, it has been because I pushed myself to connect.
When it comes to solving problems, the innovators of the world are the ones who make the connections others don’t see and become disgustingly obvious afterward. Generalists and specialists both have the ability to do this, but I’ve found that those whose interests are wide and varied are the ones who make the grandest connections.
Not everything needs to be forever
Scratching the surface reveals a much bigger world. It’s tempting to deep dive, but if generalism is your thing, the feeling of failure after trying to stay focused, then consistently, and wildly, veering off course, can be really depressing. Because my interest in any topic is intense but fleeting, spending too much time on a given subject gives me major FOMO. If I spend years learning about one thing, I’ll miss out on all the other things that are fascinating.
When I was a kid, I moved from Ontario, Canada to Rio Rico Arizona, and the fear of losing my friends, the ones I’d grown up with, was overwhelming. There were promises made of keeping in touch with monthly phone calls, letters, and MSN chats (this was the early 2000s). But despite our efforts (I’m hesitant to call them best efforts) life moved on. I made new friends and communication slowly came to an end. I didn’t realize it then, but this was not the first time that friends would come into my life and leave. But in this ever-changing flow of friendships, there’s a lesson about letting go.
It’s okay to enjoy the things and people of the moment without feeling like it needs to last forever to be of any value.
Embracing this mentality is freeing. You don’t need to become the greatest video game developer out there to enjoy making games. You don’t need to tickle the ivories like Beethoven to enjoy playing the piano. And you definitely don’t need to write like Hemingway to put out a Substack newsletter and enjoy what you’re doing.
Life, like each moment, is fleeting. So if you enjoy writing code one day, painting a picture the next, and sharing thoughtless opinions in the meantime, go for it. Be a surface-dwelling generalist and enjoy every minute of it!