What does “too much” mean, really?

I'll look back on this and smile, because it was life and I decided to live it.It’s pretty common that someone I know — importantly, someone who knows me well — will ask me, with a laugh, “How many jobs do you have right now, Liz?”

Just this morning, Doug said to me as I was leaving for work, “I just hope you don’t say ‘yes’ to everyone this semester.”

I’ve been known to lament about my tendency to over-extend myself, to commit to more things than I probably ‘should’ … and honestly, this has felt like such a consistent narrative to my adult life that I’ve never bothered to stop and examine where that ‘should’ was coming from.

Enter Tara Mohr. Like so many things that float into my digital sphere, I’m not really sure how I first found Tara, but BOY! Am I glad that I did.

Playing big means being more loyal to your dreams than your fears.She writes about women who want to “play big” in their lives, women who want to pursue big dreams, rather than holding themselves back. Her Playing Big course is full of wisdom and insight, and her writing is equally thought-provoking. This week, she shared with us her thoughts on this notion that “I have too many interests,” and the cultural stew that tells women we should do less and focus more. Her thoughts, penned in 2012, would’ve served me well had I come across them six years ago. They serve me well now. And the resonate so fully with me.

Particularly in the academic sphere, we’re often told (implicitly or explicitly) that we need to focus, that having too many interests — especially if they’re somewhat diverse — means we cannot accomplish big things. As I was finishing my PhD., a mentor said to me, “You have all of these conference papers on your CV, and there’s no clear focus. What Do You Do, Liz?”

As a graduate student, I often lamented this consistent push on us to specialize, to find some very narrow niche of study that we’d become expert on. I don’t want to limit my intellectual curiosities, nor do I think that having a broader sense of what’s intellectually interesting necessarily means I can’t speak intelligently on the various things that interest me. To put it simply: I’m always going to want to know more, about a whole bunch of different things.

Academia, as currently constructed, fails to reward this breadth of curiosity. At its worst, academia actively punishes those who want to look through their area of expertise with the broadest lens possible.

Yet, I think it’s fair to say that my students actively benefit from my curiosities in psychology, sociology, pedagogy, yoga, coaching, and first-person narratives from far-flung places around the globe. When a student wants to know more about presidential politics, the bureaucracy, or Congress, I’ve probably got some first-hand research to share about questions in each of those areas that gave me an entry point to those subfields. When a colleague wants to talk about how to integrate active learning into their statistics classroom, I have the statistics background to speak their language.

For years, I’ve felt sheepish about this lack of focus, because I’ve so consistently been told that my unfocused approach to my work indicates a lack of discipline.

When I read Tara’s blog post, though, I felt unshackled.

If you feel like you have too many interests, if you feel like you lack focus, I urge you to rigorously ask yourself: is there *really* a problem here? A problem in my getting things done? A problem in my working myself to exhaustion? If yes, address those specific problems – don’t hack away at what you love or tell yourself you need to love more narrowly.

If the answer is no, if in fact there is no real problem, then you’ve probably just absorbed a kind of criticism often labelled at creative women: focus. But the people who were threatened by your garden of interests, don’t know you, and they don’t know your rhythms. Only you do.

I make space in my life to sleep 8 hours a night (sometimes I can’t quite pull my attention away from the TV to sleep 8 hours, but I certainly could, if I weren’t so easily convinced that I simply MUST watch, tonight, the Gilmore Girls episode where Lorelai plans her entire wedding to Luke in a single day, then freaks out about how easy it was.

I genuinely love (!!) the things I fill up my days with.

You might look at my Google calendar (which I don’t recommend) and feel like you need a stiff drink and a long nap, but I look at my Google calendar and get a bit twitchy with excitement that I freaking GET TO DO THESE THINGS.

My garden of interests, to borrow Tara’s phrase, is messy and not always filled with expected blossoms, but I love its eclectic collection of blooms.

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