I'm an idiot,  raving lunatic rant,  Shop Talk,  spilling my guts

You’re Really Talented but you Lack Focus


I remember a long time ago one of my friends, a guy who I really respected but we treated each other like peers, wandered into my office.  You’re really talented, he said, but you lack focus.  Those words have haunted me a long time, probably over ten years. I know he’s right but I still to this day have not figured out how to fix this problem.

He worked in a cube, diligently. Every morning he’d show up a half hour before work and read the paper. I think it was the New York Times or the Wallstreet Journal or something.  I asked him why one time. Why didn’t he just stay home and read that paper in the comfort of his own breakfast table? He smiled and said something about not giving everything to “the man.” I think I got it but I was the kind of employee who snuck personal time all day long. A half hour before work was hardly selfish in my book.

I had a luxurious office recently handed down to me by the president of the company because he felt guilty about something. I’m not really sure what. Maybe because I’d been with the company a really long time and wasn’t properly compensated or maybe because I was going to be sidestepped for a promotion. I don’t know.  Office politics were always tricky at that company. I was just happy to be upgraded from a cubicle by the bathroom (that stank!!) to a spacious office, even if it didn’t have windows.

I was good at my job and churned out all kinds of mock-ups that got sales people fat commission checks so it wasn’t that I was a bad employee but I did spend a lot of time fixing up my office (best office in the whole place by the way) and making rocket ships out of the cardboard boxes that piled up outside the IT department. So I guess I get what the guy meant when he said I was really talented but lacked focus.

But how does someone who is creative focus? That is the eternal question of a freelancer.  It’s been dogging me for years.

Stress and deadlines are effective but they lack staying power and they wreck havoc on your life. You end up hunched over a computer with posture like Quasimodo. Everything hurts because you drink too much coffee and you sleep too little. Finally your body rebels and you end up having some kind of breakdown or you rebel and blow everybody off for three weeks (not that I’ve done that).

So then you set yourself up with a strict schedule. You vow to wake up at five am and work until three without even so much as a lunch break. I’ve used timers and highlighted calendars. I’ve worked at friend’s houses and asked them to be strict with me. But in the end you are your own boss and you rebel. Next thing you know you’re typesetting a cookbook for your mom or creating a dollhouse out of cereal boxes, schedule be damned.

I recently took my entire weekend off and read the whole first Outlander book. You might say, How nice. You needed to relax. No, I didn’t. I relax all the time. I’m forced to work poolside after all.  It was stupid and gluttonous and I’m going to be paying for it all week. I’m sick of myself. Not to mention my kid ran wild, eating taffy for dinner and who knows what for lunch. I was a horrible mom and I vow to never do that again.

Why do I do things like this? I love to escape into a series on Netflicks or lose myself in books but then when I’m done I’m left looking at my life like a druggie about to go into rehab. How did I let things go like this?  Of course everyone is fine. Don’t worry. My bills are paid, my kid is mostly well adjusted and I usually snap back to responsibility right in the nick of time but why? Why can’t I be like my friend who came in a half hour before work and get my personal time in small doses? Why do I need to throw caution to the wind and lose myself in fantasy?  Is my own life that boring? No. Of course it’s not. I love my life.

I’m rambling.

I speak for myself but as a creative I am my own worst boss. Or am I?  As soon as I set rules for myself I break them.  Is there a way to harness creative energy in such a way that we can support ourselves and not deplete ourselves?  This is obviously not a well-thought-out rant but I lack the time to be more concise. My boss, who is me, is getting after me. Focus, Brenda, focus!!

photo: me back in the day circa 1999 I think.


  • Amanda Brown

    Oh, I hear you on so many of these fronts. This post is so honest and true and while I know we all have areas we need to improve on, some of these tendencies are what make you “you” and you are awesome. It’s hard to know what to fight and what to just let be, in my own life. I too fight the schedule and I am awful with time management, so I am asking all these questions right alongside with you. Just remember to show yourself some grace too and look at all the beauty you create everyday.

  • bethany

    same damn problem here, except i have spent more than one weekend reading or watching something while my kids run wild and forage for food. sigh. the sad thing is they (until recently) were convinced that all the time i spent on the computer was real work, and that is SO not true that i felt horribly guilty and told them the truth. so now the oldest is asking if he can help me with work, so i can spend less time on the computer and more time with them. guilt complex x 20. the downtime though, to defend at least some of it, is where ideas and all that come from … creatives
    HAVE to soak up stuff other than work. we all do, but creatives more than some i think. the downtime feeds ideas. one small justification at least :). thx for sharing!

  • Susan:)

    Geez, this sounds a lot like me. I definitely lack focus. I love to indulge in books, movies or tv shows or blogs and soak up other people’s ideas. I get inspired and actually sit down and make something sometimes but yeah. Definitely not much focus. When I do make things, others say oh how cool and talented but all I think is how many mistakes I made and how it could’ve been so much better if I took more time and effort. Oh well.

  • Yara

    Lorelei recently asked me to spend less time in the computer/phone/laptop and more time with them… yet here I am. And now I feel like a horrible mom. Even though both girls are playing phone games right now.

  • Teri

    Being your own boss isn’t for everyone. On the worst days I feel like I can’t win for losing. I ping pong between feeling guilty for working and feeling guilty for not working. But on the best days, doing your best work it feels amazing and is totally worth it.

    Just my 2cents but I think it’s priorities that are the problem not focus. Somedays reading a great book is just a higher priority.

  • Katie

    Oh Brenda – I want to hug you right now! Thank you for your honesty!

    I am not a creative type – I work from home consulting in finance and accounting and even I can’t set a schedule. It’s a combo of having a boss who works best at the last minute, so even when I think I have everything done and ready, an email or Skype message pops through with him needing something “RIGHT NOW” and my own attitude of “I don’t want to do that” that get me in trouble. I have a mile thick stack of “to do’s” and I’m slacking off reading blogs :)


  • JDC

    I don’t think it has anything to do with being creative, as a scientist I’m in the same boat. I have no creative–or otherwise–solutions for you. But I will often choose NOT to work at home, because of the trouble with lack of focus/constant blog reading. I can sometimes manage to successfully work at home if I have the TV on in the background, not suitable for when children are around.

  • Heather Sanders

    First, OUTLANDER! Holy Mother of all things Jamie …. that book sucked me in and I lost WEEKS to reading through all of them. I’ve vowed to read back through them before “Written in My Heart’s Blood” releases in March – I’m not going to make that deadline.

    Also? Time management isn’t easy for anyone – focus either. This is why there are so many books out there about it, and every new Momma blogger with a 3 year old thinks she has finally figured out the solution (hence: many, MANY self-published e-books are available).

    I haven’t figured it out. I started working for myself 13 years ago and I still go balls to the wall until I drop – which is what I’ve done this week. I’m in a hotel room with my husband. I have a major head cold and can’t even have decent sex because my nose will drip on him, or the pillow, or I’ll sneeze or cough when I should be moaning -whatever…it’s just bad.

    BUT…I did get coffee cake in bed while he headed to his conference this morning AND no one is here to tell me what to do/not do until 5:00. Ahhhhh…

  • mamalang

    I’m chiming in with others that I have these conversations with myself. But a few years ago I stepped back and had a small epiphany. It isn’t horrible to have a weekend read-a-thon occasionally, or to get lost in a television series for a day, or whatever, as long as you aren’t doing it every day, every weekend, etc. We are programmed to believe that we have to be productive every darn minute of every day, and that just isn’t true. I still feel guilty, but I’m much better at excusing myself for those breaks now.

  • Amy

    I WISH I had that ‘problem’!!! Instead I have OCD tendencies and cannot do anything remotely enjoyable until my ‘tasks’ are done at home. (Meaning housework, laundry and other awful things..)

    By the time the chores are done I am tired, taking time for myself to be creative seems like too much effort and is always neglected. So I surf the WWW :)

    But seriously, ENJOY the fact that you can have fun, do your own thing and be your own boss! Those of us doing the Monday to Friday thing only wish! (Mind you I did the same OCD crud when I was home….)

    Keep on being you Brenda :) Keep on grabbing at those moments that bring you joy! All good from where I sit..

    • Amy

      BTW I did much of the Outlander books via books on CD so could multi-task. Yes, even while kicking back I had to have at least 3 things on the go (spinning wool, knitting, or painting).

      An illness I tell you! Be thankful you have the wisdom to step back and ENJOY life when the need hits.

  • eticket

    Lack of focus is part of the artistic creative process. No new input = no new ideas. How creative do you think a plow horse is vs one that runs wild and free?

  • Whimsical

    Me too! I had the week from hell last week when it all caught up with me. Thank you for sharing this.

    I’m pretty sure my “to do” list is waaaaaay longer than anyone could reasonably expect to achieve. I thinks its more of a wish fulfilment list!

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