Guys, I’m just gonna give it to you straight: when it comes to your work, you need to do ONE thing. Not two, not three, ONE THING.
I know you a lot of you have a ton of interests and passions and that’s great, but the reality is that you need to focus on doing ONE and only one thing, and then becoming incredibly good at that thing.
So if you’re one of these people who says you’re a graphic designer and you want to write a novel and you also do music videos, I’m just gonna tell you straight up, BAD IDEA. You need to pick one.
Trying to be all those things is just not gonna happen, and if you’re feeling frustrated because you aren’t getting as much traction as you want for you work, it’s almost certainly because you’re trying to do too many thing.
I know a lot of you guys don’t want to hear that, but it’s just reality and its better for you to hear it from me now than find out years later the hard way.
It’s really important to me that you guys believe me on this, so I’m gonna do my best to unpack it all for you so that you understand my intent here is not to rain on your parade – it’s that I want you guys to be successful, and I see a lot of people struggling because they aren’t focusing on one thing.
So let me break it down for you:
1 – In order to stand out, you need to be really good.
Creative fields are super competitive – there’s a lot more supply than demand. What I mean by that is, there are a lot of people fighting for a relatively small number of slots. Like say you want to design the cover art for your favorite band’s next album – how many other people would say also want to do that project?
Probably a lot, which means that in order to have a shot at it, you need to be really really good – they can choose from a ton of people to work with and they’re of course going to pick the very best.
2 – It’s almost impossible to be truly excellent at more than 1 thing
Getting really good at even one creative field is hard as hell, right??
You’ve heard the whole 10,000 hours thing – that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something. Whether that’s the exact number or not is beside the point – the point is that it takes years of work, putting in hours and hours every single day for years to become truly excellent at one of these things.
So if it takes 5 years to get really good at say graphic design, but you’re also doing music and video and writing… that’s DECADES of work to become really excellent at all those things!
Which means you’re probably gonna end up being average to crappy at all of them, which is definitely gonna hold you back.
Let’s go back to my hypothetical example of a band looking for someone to do their album cover artwork: are they gonna want to work someone who is decent at design, photography, video and writing? No – they want to work with someone who is bad fucking ass at designing album covers!
So knowing all of that, your goal should not be to dabble in 5 things, it should be to become world-class in ONE thing – because THAT is how you are gonna stand out and build the career you want.
3 – people know that it’s almost impossible to be excellent at more than 1 thing, therefore they probably won’t take you seriously if you claim to do more than 1 thing
Nobody experienced is going to believe you if you say you’re an artist and a novelist and you make short films and you’re also developing a video game – they’ll think you are either full of shit or delusional, because they know that there is nobody who is world-class at all these things.
Like even things that are pretty similar like say design and photography… how many people can you think of who are actually getting paid for both at a high level? Probably not many.
As one example, a lot of people I talk to want to play music and do some other creative thing and want to be successful at both. I can only think of TWO people in my kinda general circle who have done that: Jake from Converge and Ryan Clark from Demon Hunter.
That’s it! I’m sure there’s more I’m not thinking of, but my point is that the number of people who have pulled that off can be counted on 2 hands – and let’s be real, most of us are not as freakishly talented as those guys and being successful at ONE thing is hard enough!
4- Marketing yourself in more than 1 area is a whole other challenge!
Even if you are actually good at more than 1 thing, that doesn’t mean you’re automatically gonna get paid to do it – so you’ll need to be marketing yourself in several areas at once, which as you are probably already thinking, is fucking hard.
And marketing yourself in ONE area is hard enough, right??
Think about it: if you’re working in say 3 different areas, each of these require a different network. The people who will pay you to do design are not the same people who will hire you to make music videos or write an article for example.
So not only do you have to build multiple skill sets which is really hard, you have to build multiple networks – yeah they may overlap a bit, but you’re basically doubling or tripling the amount of work you need to do in terms of marketing.
5- People won’t know what to do with you
And lastly, here’s the part nobody thinks about but it’s actually a huge problem.
Basically, people are lazy. They want you to fit neatly into one of the existing categories they have in their brain like “marketing guy,” “personal trainer,” “video director,” and so on.
When you position yourself as anything other than that, you are basically asking people to do the mental work of taking a step back, assessing who you are, what you do, and figuring out how they could potentially work with you – and the thing is that people are lazy, so if you don’t fit into one of their existing categories, they’re basically gonna put you in the “I don’t really know what the hell this guy or girl does” bucket – and as you can probably guess, that is not a good thing.
I know this because it was a massive problem for me – one that I totally did not see coming at all but definitely held me back.
A few publications my work has been in (including about half of the cover stories)
Basically, I’ve done a lot of stuff in my career: I was creative director for a magazine, worked at a product design agency that designed stuff like Febreze and Swiffer, I used to do web development back in the PHP and MySQL days, I designed shirts for Hollister, did marketing for Abercrombie & Fitch, I’ve written for Terrorizer, Metalsucks, Substream, and I also did marketing for CreativeLive where I did stuff with some bands you may have heard of like Saosin, Dillinger and Converge.
And all of that is cool and I’m proud of it, but I bet you kind of already see the problem: when I rattle off that list, it’s kind of hard for you to say exactly what I do – am I designer, a writer, a marketer, a creative director? And I’ve worked in a bunch of different industries from consumer goods to apparel to music that have basically nothing to do with each other… what’s up with that?
When I would apply for jobs or try to put together a portfolio this became a massive problem – because like I said earlier, You don’t want people to have to figure out what to do with you, because that’s adding work, and they’re not gonna do it. They’re gonna go “wow, sounds cool but I don’t really know what to do with you” and move on. They want people who fit into a slot, and since I didn’t fit into any slot, I just got ignored.
This may feel limiting and I know a lot of people are gonna push back on this, but trust me: You want people to be able to instantly slot you into one of their existing mental categories. Like, “that’s jenny, she’s a designer. That’s Mike, he’s a front-end developer.” That will make life WAY easier.
I know this is really hard because you probably have a lot of interests and passions, but I think if you just focus on one thing you’ll find that you get a lot more traction.