In my mid-twenties, I got a ‘360 degree review’—that’s when you’re reviewed by the people all around you–who work above you, on your level, and below you.
At the end of this process, I got a fancy report with survey data from all those people and it was chock full of reflections and feedback–some of the nicest, most heartening feedback I’d gotten in my career. Yet it had one line I couldn’t forget.
“I think her potential is almost unlimited but she will have to focus her efforts. She may have to reign in her wide-ranging intellectual curiosity and set specific goals for the near future.”
From that day, my creativity, my passion, my multiple interests—which had seemed like assets, started to seem like something that was wrong with me, something that would keep me from success.
While all other nice things in that report faded from my memory, that one voice became the voice that repeated in my head, over and over telling me I’d never be successful if I did’t settle down.
And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only person who hears that voice in my head.
We get messages that having lots of interests is good for us when we’re kids, but something we should have grown past as adults. If we want to make it to the top, if we want to be successful, we have to stop following those distracting wandering interests and discipline ourselves. We hear it from parents, from partners, from bosses—and from the general culture we’re swimming in that says specialize, specialize. It becomes that voice in our heads, judging all that we do.
And it becomes one of our central narratives that permeates the way we think about our potential for success and failure.
We never know what to say at cocktail parties (of course,) and deep down inside, we really worry that our inability to narrow down has much higher costs than a little bit of rambling over drinks. We think:
“I need to specialize, or I’ll never get a good role on a big, important project.”
“If I don’t have one thing, clients will never know what to hire me for.”
“Don’t you need ‘a thing’ people associate you with to get recognized?”
Turns out, it’s not that we just have to finally settle down.
Tactics for strategic focus do matter, but the problem is that our inner narrative—that story that something is wrong with who we are, or that career success is just not for people like us, blinds us and harms our potential.
Strategic focus does matter, but it’s not the same thing as just settling down. And when we chose to ‘just settle down’ we oftentimes sign ourselves up for pathways that feel boring, and often don’t even lead to success—because we’re not engaged enough to hustle, because we’ve left a core part of ourselves behind.
Does this resonate with you? What’s your narrative? What’s the voice in your head saying?