What do you want to be known for?

This can be a daunting question. Choosing an area of specialization can be a scary decision. It can feel like you’re saying “No” to everything else forever, but this is really just a stepping stone. It’s only a season. What you choose to pursue next doesn’t have to be what you do for the rest of your life. It almost certainly won’t be.

Overlapping is a continual process. It’s all about building a solid foundation from which you can overlap to the next thing. Often, what we believe we’re passionate about ends up being what we don’t actually enjoy doing. Discovering that you don’t like the act of doing something is progress. It’s okay to continue overlapping—that’s the point. If you’re intentional in setting up each new thing, that thing can serve as your foundation for overlapping to the next thing.

Imagine that your life is broken up into seasons of passions. More than likely, the rest of your life will not contain only a single passion. Chances are, the rest of your life will contain many passions. Imagine for a moment that you’re looking back on the timeline of your life. You can see it all from beginning to end. Your timeline is broken into many different seasons: childhood, school, your first job, etc. Some seasons last a short amount of time while others last many years. On the left end of the timeline is when you were born. On the right is where you’ll die. Somewhere in between is a red dot indicating where you are now.

The red dot on your timeline is about to cross a line: you’re entering into a new season. You’re going to choose one thing and curate. You’re going to specialize, and you’re going to focus.

Without perspective, this can feel like a scary thing. It can feel like you’re saying “No” to everything else forever. But if you look at the period on your timeline between the red dot and when you’ll die, you might see something like five distinct seasons, or seven seasons, or even twelve or more seasons. What you do next almost certainly won’t be what you do for the rest of your life—it just feels that way right now.

Intentionally Approach Your Next Season

This next thing doesn’t have to be the right thing. It doesn’t have to be the perfect thing. It’s just a stepping stone. This next thing is simply a step along the way to figuring out what the real next thing is. You don’t have to do it forever. You don’t have to imagine yourself doing it forever.

Don’t try to pick what you’ll do for the rest of your life. It’s impossible to guess. Maybe the next thing you specialize in will be what you do for the rest of your life, but it probably won’t be, and it’s pointless to try to predict.

What’s important is intentionally approaching that next thing so that it can serve as a foundation and springboard to the thing after that. Just like your day job is your current foundation, this next thing you pursue will become the new foundation for whatever you do after that. It can be a solid foundation only if you approach it purposefully and in a curated fashion.

Choosing to curate and specialize in one area does require saying “No” to everything else, but take comfort in the fact that you’re not saying “No” forever. It’s only for a season. Learn to see things in seasons of passions and embrace the season you’re in. Some seasons feel long and others short. When the spring changes to summer, we don’t lament because we know spring will be back soon enough.

Remember that specializing doesn’t mean you can’t do other things. If you want to be known as a designer but you enjoy playing music, you can still play music! But you’d refrain from projecting what doesn’t contribute to being known as a designer (like your music).

Do Much to Discover Your One Thing

No one gets good at many things by doing them all at once. You’re good at playing piano because you took lessons and had to practice every day. You’re good as a developer because you worked at an agency for three years and tinkered with code in your nights and weekends. You’re good at video­graphy because you spent an entire summer volunteering at camps where you spent ten hours a day filming. You’re good at cooking because you’ve cooked nearly every single day of your life for as long as you can remember. What comes naturally to you comes naturally because you’ve done it thousands of times.

Blazing a straight path from where you are now to where you think you want to be doesn’t work. You can’t ignore the journey it takes to get there—and that journey is never a straight line.

Everyone has to do many things before they figure out the one thing. You have to try to do and pursue many things until you find what you want to be known for.

Does trying many things make you a jack-of-all-trades? The way you know whether or not you’re a jack-of-all-trades is if you’re doing a bunch of things at one time. We all do many things over the course of our lifetimes, but it’s doing many things at once that makes one a jack-of-all-trades. A jack-of-all-trades is never a master. The way you know if you’re progressing toward mastery is if you’re doing one thing at a time. You don’t have to know what this mastery will be when you start. What you end up doing may be very different from what you start doing or what you know right now, and that’s okay.

What you’re choosing to focus on now isn’t the thing you’re choosing to focus on forever. See it as the first step toward mastery. Mastery can end up becoming something very different from what you had in mind when you started, but you will eventually reach it if you focus on one thing at a time. It’s alway okay to pivot and even change your goal as long as you remain focused in pursuit of your goal.

If you can do many things well right now, that’s fantastic! It’s not at all a bad thing. You will end up using all of the skills you acquire in your journey in ways that you could never have predicted. Just because you don’t end up doing something forever doesn’t mean the pursuit of it at one time was a total loss. What you’ve learned will continue to serve you for the rest of your life.

Stoke One Fire First

The leaders and forerunners of any given industry may appear to be masters at one thing, but that’s only what you see on the outside. It’s simply a matter of projection. In reality, these people have many other skills you don’t see, but they’re known for being a master at one thing because of their curated output. You could be a master of many things, but no one will perceive it if you project them all simultaneously.

Imagine you’re standing on the beach, squishing the sand between your toes. It’s dusk and the ocean breeze is starting to cool. Five firepits glow on the beach. Each one represents one of your passions. You run around blowing on the embers, trying to stoke the fires, but each is barely lit and close to dying. No matter how hard you work, you’re barely able to keep them all from going out. You can’t ever sit back and enjoy the warmth and light of a roaring fire because all of your energy is spent keeping each of them barely alive.

But if you focused on a single fire and invested all of your time and energy into it, you could build it to a roaring bonfire. A bonfire is an asset. It continues roaring on its own and requires no maintenance from you. This does two things for you.

First, you can now direct your energy to the second firepit and spend your time also building it up to bonfire status. Now you have two assets! The first bonfire is so huge that it can be seen for miles around. While you were building the second fire, the first fire started attracting people. These people didn’t even know you existed when you had five pits with warm coals in them, but now they’re gathering around, watching you build up the second and third fires. You now have assets and attention.

It was never about the first fire. It was about what the first fire afforded you: the ability to focus. First, you were known as the person with one fire. Now you’re known as the person with three fires, four fires, and maybe even five fires. You reached this point because you focused on only one fire at a time.

In an alternate universe, there’s a version of you who is still running around stoking five firepits—all of them small and cold. This version of you has no audience, no assets, and no warmth.

You have to pick something and just start doing it. Focus on it. You can’t afford to give yourself too many options. When you have too many options, you end up feeling paralyzed. When there are too many things you could do, you end up with no clarity. You have to pick one thing and go all out on it. If you find out you don’t like doing it, great! That’s progress. Move on to the next thing. Every step is forward motion. You’re going to learn things now that apply to the next thing you do in the future. The most difficult part is starting.

You just have to pick something and go.

Key Takeaways

  • What you do next almost certainly won’t be what you do for the rest of your life—it just feels that way right now.
  • The next thing doesn’t have to be the right thing. The next thing is simply a step along the way to figuring out what the real next thing is.
  • Everyone has to do many things before they figure out their one thing. You have to try to do and pursue many things until you find what you want to be known for.
  • Don’t try to pick what you’ll do for the rest of your life. It’s impossible to guess.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed with options right now, just pick something and start doing it. If you try it for a while and don’t like it, that’s okay. Just keep moving forward.