If you’re attracted to many different pursuits and can’t commit to any single one of them for your career, college major, or income source, then good for you! Leonardo da Vinci was in the same boat. He’s considered by many to be the greatest genius of all time.
The notion that you have to commit to a single trade for life (or even for a decade or two) makes sense if you want to live like an industrial worker drone. But then you’re just filling the role of a cog in a giant machine, perfectly disposable and easily replaced by similar cogs.
Let me guess… the people telling you (maybe even yelling at you) to pick one thing and commit to it are also on the drone path themselves, right? Do you honestly want their results? Or would you like something better?
It’s perfectly okay to reject the drone path, you know. Lots of people do, and they’re much happier for it. But they aren’t the same people that will tell you, “Pick one thing and stick to it, or you’ll never amount to anything.” Instead they’ll probably say, “The more interests you pursue, the smarter you’ll become.”
There’s no rule that says you must commit to being a drone
I don’t want to commit to any one thing for life. I don’t even like committing to just one thing for a month. I have too many interests. If I picked just one thing and let all the rest go, I wouldn’t be happy. I’d just feel trapped. So I chose to reject that option. I can see that it isn’t right for me. Hmmm… for some reason the people that said I should specialize got a lot quieter when my eclectic interests started paying off financially.
Presently I enjoy writing, blogging, speaking, podcasting, online business, studying self-improvement, philosophy, humor, disc golf, psychic development, etc. Why should I pick just one? Am I a blogger, an author, a speaker, a personal development expert, an Internet entrepreneur? So I have a chaotic resume. Who cares?
In the past I trained in martial arts (tae kwon do and kempo), did lots of distance running including a marathon, learned to count cards at blackjack, performed with a comedy improv troupe, learned to juggle, designed and programmed computer games, and did lots of other things I enjoyed. Many of these activities were pursued on weekdays between the hours of 9am and 5pm. But guess what… nobody came to arrest me for it. The earth didn’t spin off its axis because I failed to pick just one thing.
If you have lots of interests, people will complain. Let them.
It might be hard to see it unless you hang out with me in person, but I switch back and forth between various interests all the time. Sometimes I’m really dedicated to writing/blogging for several days in a row. Other times I’ll put my blog on the back burner, and I’ll spend more time speaking or just working on personal growth.
Sometimes people complain when I slack off on blogging to pursue other interests, but I retain the freedom to make that choice when I know it’s right for me. Since there are hundreds of free articles in the archives and 21 free podcasts, and since the forums are available 24/7, I don’t feel like I have to post something every day to keep the blog going. If my blog starts to feel like a “monkey on my back,” I simply let it go for a while. Then I pick it up again when I’m inspired to return to it.
Whenever I pull back from one area to pursue another, I get the “What happened to you? Where have you been?” questions. If I take a few months off from going to Toastmasters meetings (such as I did while writing my book), my friends wonder what happened to me. Did I fall off the planet? Am I quitting the club? If I don’t blog for a week, somebody may start a new “Is Steve dead?” discussion in the forums. I just accept that this happens. It’s a natural consequence of having a variety of interests. I’m not dead. I’m just switching modes. This week I’m really inspired to do some blogging. Earlier this year I was more focused on writing my book. Later this year I’ll be doing a lot of work to promote my book.
Many interests = faster growth = becoming smarter
The benefit of having lots of different interests is that you train your brain to learn many new patterns. The patterns you learn in one field can then be applied to totally different fields to solve problems creatively.
Within a single field, the dominant experts tend to develop tunnel vision. They get attached to certain patterns. They frequently network with each other, so they all know each other’s favorite patterns. This definitely happens in the field of personal development.
But often the people who do the most innovative work are the outsiders who arrive with fresh patterns that the existing experts haven’t been exposed to. This is great because these outsiders can stimulate lots of growth. Albert Einstein is a good example. While he worked as a patent clerk, he had virtually no contact with the mainstream physics community.
One of the reasons I’ve been so successful as a personal development blogger is that I came into this field as an outsider. My college degrees are in computer science and mathematics, not psychology or philosophy. Because of my background, I often notice patterns that other people in this field overlook (or simply discount).
What makes me different from most other experts in this field is that I tend to think in binary and algorithmic terms. When you write a computer program, either it produces the desired output or it doesn’t. A math problem is either solved or it isn’t. You can’t use a half-assed or fuzzy approach in those fields and expect to succeed. Either you’re right or you’re wrong. Either you have a solution that works, or you don’t. There isn’t much of an in-between where you can squeak by. If you want to succeed in computer science or math, you have to be good at solving problems. Your solutions have to actually work. You can’t fake it or B.S. your way into a computer’s good graces and expect it to ignore your personal failings. If you’re wrong, you get zero results. A bad program usually doesn’t degrade gracefully — the program simply won’t run at all.
When I got interested in personal development, one thing that really annoyed me was just how wishy washy and imprecise everything was. There were entire bookshelves filled with what I considered to be utter B.S. The books promised practical solutions to real problems, but inside all you’d find would be vapid drivel and stories of exaggerated results. After reading lots of computer programming books and learning precise solutions that would work properly every time, this was a big change for me.
Since I like patterns that are very tight, precise, and effective, I dislike solutions that aren’t universal. I also dislike gray areas since I prefer to think in more black and white terms. So I’m inclined to say things like, “Either you’re doing what you love, or you aren’t. Which is it?” I know my approach won’t appeal to everyone, and more than once I’ve been accused of being too rigid in my thinking, but I also know there’s a place for this mindset in the self-help field.
Similarly, if you were a psychologist coming into the field of computer science, you might be inclined to introduce problem-solving methods that allow for more fluidity and imprecision… such as fuzzy logic.
When I wrote my book Personal Development for Smart People, I developed a pseudo-mathematical model for personal growth, including a complete structural framework I’ve never seen anywhere else in this field. I could have subtitled my book, “The hidden geometry of personal growth.” (If you follow that last link and scroll down a bit, you’ll see a triangle that represents the essence of that model.) Maybe we can’t get as precise as mathematics when dealing with conscious growth, but I think we can get a lot closer than we are now.
If you like thinking about personal growth in fairly linear terms — i.e. tell me how to figure out what I want and how to get there — you’ll probably love my book. But if you prefer a more Zen-like, go-with-the-flow, allow-life-to-happen-to-you style, you’ll probably find my book too rigid for your tastes. Nevertheless, I have no doubt this book will carve out a strong position in its field (just as my blog has done) because its creative solutions and patterns will help people solve problems in new ways.
Now imagine if I switched careers again. I could then apply patterns I learned from all the other fields I studied to produce creative, original work in that new field. Patterns from personal growth, math, computer science, blogging, martial arts, etc. would surely generate new solutions in seemingly unrelated fields.
Even when I play disc golf with my friends, I apply patterns I learned in other fields. For example, my disc golf buddies all have a preferred throwing style for their drives — they almost always throw their drives using the same technique. But I will employ different throwing styles to adapt to the terrain. Sometimes I’ll do forehand throws, sometimes I’ll use backhand, and sometimes I’ll throw rollers — all within the same game. This means I don’t get as much practice with any single style, but I can be more flexible in adapting to the terrain.
That was a very basic example, but “adapting solutions to the terrain” was actually a pattern I learned from computer programming. Programmers will often use different algorithms to solve essentially the same problem, adapting their solutions to the specific circumstances. There are lots of different sorting and searching algorithms, and the optimal solution depends on the particular problem you want to solve. When I play disc golf, I ask myself, “What is the correct throwing technique (algorithm) I need to use here to help me minimize (optimize) the number of throws it will take me to get to the basket (goal)?”
You’ll be surprised at how many opportunities there are to use insights you learn in one field to solve problems in a seemingly unrelated field. The long-term benefit of cultivating many different interests is that you build a powerful toolkit of problem-solving patterns. This gives you more flexibility when facing certain challenges. People sometimes praise me for a brilliant insight that helped them solve a challenging problem when all I did was cross-pollinate a known solution pattern from one field to another.
Making money from your varied interests – creative solutions
It’s important to note that you don’t have to earn money from all of your interests. If you just dive in and pursue what you enjoy, you may be surprised to find out which interests help you generate income and which don’t.
Most of my interests don’t generate any income directly, and that’s perfectly fine. But a lot of them do, including hosting advertising on this website, writing a book, doing professional speaking, and reviewing and recommending products.
What earns me the most money right now? My income is fairly diversified, but the single most lucrative activity for me at present is reviewing and recommending products — not blogging or speaking. You might think I earn the most money from all the writing I do, but that isn’t how it works. Perhaps my writing is what creates the most value for others, but it doesn’t generate the most income… at least not directly.
Publishers frequently send me information products to review. At any given time, I usually have 50-100 books and several days worth of audio/video in my queue. I listen to audio programs at the gym or on my computer at 2-4x playback speed, and I PhotoRead lots of books. (Incidentally, Learning Strategies is currently repeating their PhotoReading discount for StevePavlina.com readers this month — something they’ve done only once per year. I’ll make a separate blog post about that shortly after this one.)
When I encounter something I really, really love and feel good about recommending, I work out a profit-sharing deal with the publisher in exchange for recommending and promoting their product on my site. This works great for information products because the profit margin is often 80% or higher, since the value is in the information, not the packaging. Usually I can also get them to offer my readers a better deal than if you bought from them directly. This arrangement is a win for the publishers because they gain many new customers with no marketing costs. A good product will do more than $100,000 in sales in the first 30 days if I recommend it. It’s a win for me because I get all the free products I could ever desire, and I earn six figures a year just from a handful of recommendations. Once I’ve posted my product review, I enjoy an ongoing passive income from ongoing sales, receiving commission checks every month. The benefit for my readers is that they get introduced to the best products I find — often with a discount or bonus and always with a money-back guarantee so there’s no risk. Additionally, all the free articles and podcasts are basically subsidized by this arrangement, so I can afford to invest many hours writing new articles like this one without having to charge for the information. All things considered, I think this is an incredibly fair deal for everyone.
However, the honest truth is that while I enjoy reviewing and recommending products from time to time, I don’t want to turn this single activity into my full-time career. I don’t want my blog to become nothing but a product review site. What you may not realize though is that by deciding to pursue other interests, I’m leaving a lot of potential income on the table. If I really wanted to, I’m sure I could earn 5-10x more money from this website… virtually overnight. How to do that is a no-brainer. Instead of recommending just a few products per year, I could recommend a new product every week or two. I certainly have no shortage of products to choose from. But in order to get there, I’d have to do one of two things.
The first option would be endorse more products, regardless of whether I thought they were any good. There are many products backed by slick marketing that sell well online, but the underlying information is worthless junk. I wouldn’t even need to look at the products, so that would save me tons of time. Some publishers actually offer me pre-written endorsement letters, and all I’d need to do would be to affix my name and send them off. You’ll encounter many Internet marketers who do this very thing, proudly recommending products they’ve never tried, just because they know it will make them money. I see the same endorsement letters I’ve been offered showing up in other people’s newsletters. Don’t worry though — you won’t see me going this route. Personally I can’t stomach the thought of doing anything like this. It isn’t aligned with truth and love, and it’s also the wrong polarity for me. I’m simply sharing that if my #1 goal was to earn more money by doing just one thing, I could certainly do it. But I think I’ll hang onto my soul for now.
Since I can summarily reject the first option, the other option would be to review a lot more products. Hopefully by reviewing more products in less time, I’d be able to find more gems. If I did nothing but review and recommend products full-time, I could probably find 20-30 really good ones I could honestly recommend each year. But this would mean I’d have to dump a lot of my other interests, and I’m simply not willing to do that, even if it means earning 10x more money. I’m happier earning less money while maintaining a good balance of activities I enjoy. So I have to reject this option because it isn’t aligned with love.
My point is that you don’t have to go after the option that makes you the most money. You can pursue many different interests and still find a creative mix that allows you to earn money AND maintain an abundant lifestyle AND be happy AND make a difference. It’s a huge mistake to pursue money at all costs, especially if you have to sacrifice so many of the things you love doing. Do what you enjoy, and leave the extra money on the table.
I’ve met a few Internet marketers who will pimp themselves to promote any potentially lucrative products they come across, milking their lists for as much money as they can, without even trying the products they endorse. They pride themselves on being able to manipulate emotions to get people to buy. They boast about how much money they make from promoting overpriced crap to people who are too naive to know any better. (I can attest to the veracity of the “crap” label because my office toilet is permanently stained from flushing many of the products they’ve sent me.) After conversing with such people for a while, I feel like I’ve been drenched in darkworker slime. What do I say to them? “Sorry, I can’t help promote your products on my site because you’re evil.” I’m not sure how that one would fly.
Fortunately I’ve found a good way of responding to such people. I simply say, “Unfortunately my intuition says no on this, so I’ll have to pass.” I really love that line because they have no defense against it, and best of all, it’s the truth. If I say anything else, they usually pop into “counter objections mode” and try to turn me. But they have no means of arguing against my intuition because they’re so out of touch with theirs. (If you’re one of the people who happened to be on the receiving end of this line from me, it doesn’t normally mean I think you’re evil. It’s just one of many stock replies I give for business offers I must decline.)
If I try to challenge such people to realign themselves with truth and love, that sometimes has the side effect of making them want to light saber me. Eventually I’ll find a way to turn one of them. Such people are pretty well aligned with power, but what they don’t yet realize is that if they could bring themselves into alignment with truth and love as well, they’d become even more powerful. They’d also be a lot happier and more fulfilled. This may sound strange, but I’m actually thinking of offering consultations to such people to help them restore balance to their lives. They’re in a position to positively affect a lot of other people if they can get it right, so helping even one of those people can create a lot of leverage. But of course I couldn’t do that… because that would mean pursuing yet another interest. <- Yes, this is sarcasm! 😉
Now that was a fun tangent. Ugh… don’t try to mix math and humor.
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If you aspire to be a one-hit wonder, by all means go for it. Otherwise, take note that historically speaking, people would develop a variety of skills to meet their needs. Overspecialization may be good for corporations, but it’s not so great for conscious human beings. Even a farmer from the 1850s probably has you beat in the skills diversity department. Can you look out at a vacant plot of land and build your own self-sustaining farm and a home for your family with some basic hand tools? (If you can say yes to that, then come to Las Vegas this summer and prove it!)
The next time someone tells you to settle down and pick just one thing for your career, your college major, or your source of income, I recommend you reply as follows: “I appreciate your concern, but since I don’t share your dream of becoming a prized poodle, I must reject your advice as being utterly stupid.”
Then challenge them to a round of disc golf.