Issues of focus


I'm not sure if it was my friend, Merlin, who led the charge, but at some point, many of us, myself, included, gave up on streamlining, optimizing and other kinds of organizational navel-gazing and started turning our attention to attention.

What it was made of. What obscured it. What attracted ours.

As things accelerate and old structures crumble around us, a shift like this makes perfect sense. Power and money still mean something, but the means to them has changed quite a bit, a phenomenal amount in my working lifetime, to the point where I regularly find instances of people caught with their pants down all over the Internet, not to mention real life. The speed of life and the volume of stuff that fills it is staggering, which is to say I (and I daresay you, and that fella sitting next to you) regularly stagger under the weight of it.

And stuff. Let's talk about that stuff, shall we? While I was too much of a pantywaist-commie-pinko-hippie to join the Masters of the Universe in the bloodthirsty late-last-century race to see who died with the most toys, I dined on their dime and drank their whiskey. Mea culpa, and I've been actively taking steps to address it ever since I realized my folly, from getting rid of shit to riffing less often to putting more time into what I really care about.

At the risk of sounding like a new age spongecake, the chief questions seem to me to be:

  1. What is getting in the way of what I want?
  2. How do I remove those obstacles?

What is missing from this list is, of course, the all-important "What do I want?" To those who would point this out, I would say either, "You already know that part, bub" or "If you don't know, try getting rid of some stuff." The excavation process is subtractive: heaping more crap, even really well-written or beautifully-made crap, is going to hurt you more than it helps. As one who spent many, many years wandering through the psychic equivalent of the Container Store, looking for neat solutions to organize my neuroses rather than haul them into the light where they might shrivel or at least be sterilized, I know. I know. That cheap crap from China is mighty alluring on the surface.

But now, well over two years into this wandering-in-the-desert shit, I'm here to say that there is no magic book or info product or life-changing seminar, or, yes, blog, that holds the answer. Like Dorothy, ain't nothing in that black bag for you, son. Go declutter a closet, or take a long walk, or send that email to your friend with the great shrink and begin the sometimes-arduous, always long process of excavation. Because your inability to get traction or to focus is directly related to the myriad ways you've chosen to numb yourself.

Nobody's blaming anyone, least of all me. I am currently grappling with a layer of clutter so tacky and tenacious that I can only hope it indicates the imminent breakthrough my clutterbusting friend, Brooks, seems to believe. Yet this layer feels as whisper-thin as it does dense, so that at the end of this all, the happy ending I'm trying to hold in front of my heart, I will look at this discarded skin/film/filter that separated me from my wholeness with wonder and disbelief: This? This was the Supposably Huge Thing standing between me and the Next Thing? That's it?

The greatest gift you can be given is to be born with that clearly defined passion inside you. If you are so blessed, you must pay back the gods by pursuing that passion with laser-like focus in a way that helps the rest of us.

The consolation prize is ruthlessly, bravely, systematically eliminating what obscures that passion, keeping yourself sharp and light and open along the way.

Either way, focus is mandatory. Focus is the means by which all the good things happen (and, yes, the bad, but those are not concerns of ours right now).

Focus. Eliminate. Focus. Pursue.


Image by Thomas Shahan (Opo Terser) via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.