Where would you like to be?

People often think they need to grab every opportunity they can. It seems a sound premise and it has a nice “can do” feeling to it. But if you take every opportunity, you’ll likely suffer. We can’t be all things to all people. Better to do one thing very well than ten things badly. 

The colt we helped catch last Sunday would be a good example. We still don’t know if an owner has claimed them or what, but there’s no shortage of animals like them. The waifs and strays of the world seem to turn up on friendly doorsteps and when you live in the countryside and it’s just another cat it’s not much of a problem (my childhood there). But when it’s five colts… neither the stables nor any of us as individuals would have the resources to take them on without question. 

Big animal shelters must really struggle with this. So many beasties needing help, but you have a duty and a responsibility to those already in your care first. 

In business too, you need to focus. This article was shared on facebook today and it’s a good reminder of the need to (quite often) say no. Even when you want to do the thing. If it takes you in the wrong direction, tires you out, or limits you, then why do it? The exception would be if it was going to make a genuine difference to someone, in which case you do (at least sometimes!) need to put kindness to others before your own aims.  

As the article suggests, the thing isn’t always the thing… A talk isn’t just turning up and speaking for an hour. A photoshoot isn’t just the day taking pictures. Loaning a garment to a stylist isn’t just popping something in the post. An off-brand order isn’t just a quick side-project to earn money. Taking another intern isn’t as simple as having an extra person in the studio. All of these things cost you money and take time (generally three or four times as long as you expect).

By all means, do the thing, you can do whatever you like and it’s no-one’s business but your own. But be aware that sometimes saying “yes” can be harmful. You have to turn things down, leave things behind. And the things that you say yes or no to will be different depending on where you are in your business and life. Don’t do something “just because”, do it because it makes sense to your aims. 

It was put another way by Neil Gaiman and I remember a couple of my friends loving this speech, so I’ll leave you with this. 

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.

— Neil Gaiman

One thought on “Where would you like to be?

  1. I got better at saying no to things, dealing with the feelings of guilt that sometimes comes with that. What I struggle with now is finding the things to say yes to! I love the Gaiman quote. I’m still defining my mountain though..


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