Balance 3: Mediating Focus and Openness

This is part of a series of “Balance” posts that will treat the subject of balance from a transdisciplinary perspective (for more on this, see the end of the first and second posts). It’s not about work-life balance only, but about the many decisions that modern world citizens have to evaluate today. I hope these discussions help you determine where you need to be on the spectrum to find your own inner truth.

glasses with aperture focusing

To be honest, this is one of those questions I need a lot of help on right now.

I’ve come pretty far on accepting myself, and I still veer in and out of both auto-pilot and overthinking mode, but this is the one that I’ve been trying to grapple with for the past several months, without much resolution.

The big question haunting me, as I am now free of the daily grind of obligation to a desk job, is how to focus on what I want to achieve in a way that both suits my personality and gets things done. Without the external motivation or threat overhanging my work, how do I set goals and motivate myself to accomplish them?

The pitfalls I see, and do feel free to contribute your two cents (or $20!), are in 1) getting too focused on one outcome, or 2) being lackadaisical. While being focused is usually considered a positive attribute, associated with determination, results, and making progress, what comes of taking this to an extreme?

Too Much Focus on One Outcome:

  • Missing out on other opportunities
  • Not taking care of other parts of your life
  • Disappointment if goal not attained

The biggest of these is missing out on other opportunities, which happens unless one has a certain openness to experience, which interestingly enough, Wikipedia tells me is a whole field of study in Psychology.

As a multipotentialite, perhaps this scares me more than it does the average non-multipod. But with so many fascinating things happening in this world, it’s hard not to want to do as many of them as you can, right?

Second, focusing one one goal may well take attention away from other crucial duties such as relationships, exercise, and maintenance tasks. Don’t want to make a million only to learn that you’ve alienated your spouse, or gained 30 pounds and now have a chronic condition, or neglected to pay your gas bill, do we?

Finally, bitter disappointment if the one thing you’ve focused all your energy on for the past 6 months, or 6 years, doesn’t happen. Some may see this as a mechanism for fear to hold me back, and it might be. But I think that it’s important to acknowledge that 1) there are factors out of your control, and 2) you may not have set the best, most accurate, most relevant type of goal. Here are my two personal examples.

Acknowledge…drawbacks to focus

First, who has ever tried to prioritize finding a life partner? Yeah, silly, right? (So maybe this is an example for both drawbacks…)

I know from personal experience that you can’t count on something that involves something out of your control, such as meeting the love of your life. It’s a mixture of chemistry, timing, attitude, effort, and of course, openness. Only the last two are in your control.

I spent a couple years cycling in and out of putting targeted effort into dating, and being open to all types of people, with nothing to show for it at the end except a lot of first dates, several story-worthy, awkward ones, and a few really nice second dates. But no match.

So is the best strategy for finding your mate focus? Or openness? I’ll let you be the judge. (I just know that it’s not OKCupid, for me!)

Second, setting a goal that is not the most accurate or relevant, or realistic. This must happen to every entrepreneur out there. Aim for 100 products sold on the first day, 500 subscribers to a newsletter, 1,000 Facebook likes, whatever it is. But then as the intrepid adventurer, I realize I need to research different marketing methods, or go through another round of editing… and it turns out 6 months to publish a book may not have been so realistic.

It must be time to reflect, analyze, & evolve into a better goal-setter.


On the other side of the spectrum, you could have not enough focus… and while openness may be considered a good trait by some, associated with characteristics such as objectivity or being open-minded, what might come of taking it too far?

office space motivation poster

Being Lackadaisical:

  • not challenging yourself to accomplish what you might
  • being fatalistic about things that you could actually influence

The first outcome hearkens back to another Balance post, and I realize it’s definitely a fine line.

How do you know if you need to be a stern taskmaster and spend every evening for a week at home tinkering with your website, or whether you need to spend 3 evenings a week going for a walk, letting thoughts settle, getting fresh inspiration, and exercise to boot?

(This may sound like an excuse, but then again, it could just be my Catholic guilt sparring with that American Protestant work ethic. Ninjas in my head, those two.)

I asked Catherine Caine of to help with this question, and it turns out she has a whole system, called One Goal At A Time, Sheesh (TM), which gives “first dibs on [her] time and focus” to one goal, while allowing for flexibility to accomplish other urgent or client-centered tasks.

She sums it up well thus:

“As long as I stay on track more often than not, I can have progress AND flexibility.”

I think the keys to this are self-awareness (when do you shirk/ when are you challenging yourself?) and practice (reflect, analyze, evolve, once again!) 

The second result may be more about my own prejudices, but again, let me know what you think:

People who are too fatalistic annoy me.

“I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

“The Universe will provide.”

“There’s a reason for everything.”

Sure, there might be a germ of this sentiment in those who are “open to experience,” but they don’t leave it at that. The successful ones know this:

harder you work luckier you get quote


So where do you fall on the continuum of focused <——> open?

In which direction are you hoping to move?

And how do you plan on doing it?

Share in the comments!


Photos via  WiredBeHealthyInCollege and

7 Responses to Balance 3: Mediating Focus and Openness

  1. Margaret!! I AM in the “universe will provide” segment but not in the fatalistic part. More in the spiritual part, acknowledging that we do not control everything but accepting that if we direct our energy towards what we want to achieve the universe will send people on my path I can learn something from or who can be of help, even if it is to learn what I do not need or want. I set my goal, but skip the deadline or numbers. I have my big purpose in my mind and then take steps and I keep continuing to take steps at the times I “feel” I can take another one. I had no goal for my girls running project in the number of girls we’d like to attend. We had put the limit on 15. I thought it was doable to find 15 but we also determined a minimum which was 5. We got 18 … with 3 more on the waiting list. Those 18 are still there after 3 classes. I guess setting a goal is like “I want to write a novel and share XYZ with people”. How you get there, how long it will take, who you meet on the road, how many people will read it, is not something you necessarily need to plan for. Just direct your energy towards writing that novel et voila, it’s almost there!! I guess, what I am saying is that in my case I actually skip putting deadlines on achieving my goals. Exactly the kind of thing you would “not” do in a 9-5 job. There is a reason I left the 9-5 job …. Allowing myself to live in the now is definitely one of them.

  2. And may I add … in this post you do get, in my view, to the essence of what it is all about when you are talking about following your heart and achieving your purpose in life. Looking forward to more insights along the road :-)

    • Thanks so much, Rose. I know you’re somewhat in the camp of “the Universe will Provide” camp as you describe above, but you’re not waiting, you’re DOING, to make your goal happen, in some way, shape, or form. “And that has made all the difference…”
      That is awesome about the girls’ enrollment! Another strike at “SMART” goals! 😉
      …And about your 2nd comment, maybe that’s why this continuum of balance was so hard for me to write– it gets at the heart of following your passion and living your dreams, ALL that stuff. Trying to break it down into statements you can be sure of is no easy task!

  3. Margaret, I just read this article over at Psychology Today and it made me think of your blog article for some reason. I am definitely a sufferer of overly focusing on a goal or outcome to the point of neglecting other areas of my life so it really resonated with me.

    • Wow, some obvious correlations here, Lori, you’re so right! Only they’ve got research to back it up, and I am just thinking out loud on this one. But here: “An overly narrow focus … neglects non-goal areas” sounds an awful lot like my point about maintaining relationships, exercise, and necessary day-to-day tasks.
      And how great is that book title: “Goals Gone Wild” ?!? Definitely want to read that- thanks for the tip!

  4. Getting really good at one thing (guitar playing, writing, fitness) that I love while letting the opportunities evolve from that one thing has always worked for me. Not only have I had more opportunities arise from this technique, they are far better opportunities than I had with a lack of focus.

  5. Pingback: The Tenets of Scheduling Faith | Taste Life Twice

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