Hocus Focus! Finding Your Niche.

Attention please! Although at times it seems it does, maintaining the proper focus doesn’t have to involve a magic formula. We do so much yet accomplish so little. Having a wide variety of skills and interests can be a valuable characteristic but can also be overwhelming. What’s a Jack or Jill of all trades to do? He or she just needs to develop a focus.

Whether recent college graduate, freshly retired or somewhere in between, we all consider options regarding what future direction to take in life. Of course nothing gets accomplished without action, however, you must know what action to take, and you must be able to determine the steps needed to accomplish the task.

You must be able to think clearly.  A scattered mind will produce fragmented results at best. Bits and pieces here and there must be pulled together to form a valid premise. This is time consuming and inefficient. Part of developing and keeping a sound mind is cultivating the ability to focus- to concentrate and funnel attention and resources toward a certain objective.

When you choose to focus, you can become really great in one area, an expert in your field, and then develop from that particular hub. Don’t think of focus as a limitation. Think of it as a specialization, a starting point from which you can later expand upon.

In the business world, marketing specialists call this targeting or segmentation. Focus is also the drive behind vision and innovation. Most entrepreneurs and new ventures begin with a specialization, starting small, perfecting their niche product or service, and growing from there. No wonder small businesses overwhelmingly comprise the largest percentage of U.S. employers.

On the other hand, the antithesis of focus is displayed by many, if not most, corporate organizational change initiatives. In order to avert some perceived future calamity, change programs are designed to promote chaos, meant to shake up the status quo and prevent stagnancy. Basically, they evolve until they implode. Accomplishment is not the goal, rather instability is actively sought.  Constant adaptation to often imaginary boogeymen leads to waste and inefficiency with multi-everything meaning no focus, no organization, no real value, no purpose, and no service.

Imagine being so scatterbrained and paranoid that you could not finish even one simple task before beginning a new one. You’d then repeat that unsteady process over and over out of imaginary fear. Because of extremely distorted perceptions, you’d be completely unable to focus.  In the real world, this is called schizophrenia.  Instead of basing your life upon fear of what you DON’T want to happen, focus on what you DO want. Instead of focusing on what you CAN’T control, focus on what you CAN control. Again, the first step in focusing is deciding upon WHAT in which to focus along with what NOT to focus.

Your focus, your specialization, your area that makes you tick, should be appropriate and relevant, given the situation and circumstances. Be realistic, combining what you enjoy with what you’ve done before and have a track record of being good at. There is an opportune time to try new things and gain new skills but not when trying to build a focus. You must cut distractions by narrowing your options. Otherwise, you’ll be overwhelmed, again, and back to square one, unable to concentrate or… focus.

So, let’s get to the point…

Tactics to Practice 

It sounds completely contradictory, but when deciding upon what your focus should be, first take a look at the big picture. Gather intelligence about past, future and present self along with your past and future situations and environments. To use another business world analogy, this type of inside/outside-present/future type of examination is called a SWOT analysis. It’s based upon your personal assessment of your internal strengths and weakness along with what you view as realistic yet potential external opportunities and threats.  The results of this analysis will become part of your foundation for deciding upon what area(s) you should focus upon.

Internal Strengths & Weaknesses

“Knock knock…” …”Who’s there?” 

Ask yourself these questions:

  • If you didn’t know you, what would your first impression of you be like?
  • What attributes would family, friends & co-workers use in describing you?
  • What do people frequently compliment you on?
  • What about you have others at times complained about?
  • What have you been rewarded for in the past?
  • Your work experience? Education/training? Hobbies?
  • What were your best subjects in school? Your worst?
  • What job position did you enjoy the most? Which one did you dislike the most?
  • What activities do you enjoy? Which ones do you avoid?
  • How is your physical health? Your mental health?
  • How is your financial health? Time? Resources?

Be honest. These are your personal strengths and weaknesses.

External Opportunities & Threats

Think of external forces, most often outside of your realm of control, that you consider to be potentially advantageous or detrimental to your success and well-being. Again, be realistic.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is there a demand for your experience, education, training and/or skill sets?
  • For your chosen profession, are there certain legal or regulatory procedures such as licensure or certification required?
  • Are you living in an area with opportunity for advancement within your realm of expertise?
  • Do family and friends support your ideas?

On a side note… Are you for real?

Free-will? Self-made? Not exactly. Although we each certainly do have opportunities for creating our own destinies, keep in mind so do the other people around us. The actions of others have as much impact upon your outcomes as do your own actions.  Our fellow beings can provide us with many openings and opportunities as well as with obstacles and boundaries. Society places limitations, many necessary evils, others not so vital, just hindrances. Society also provides us with limitless opportunities. Learn to distinguish limiting factors (people/situations) from opportunistic factors (people/situations). There’s no point in worrying about what might happen or what someone else may or may not do. Bottom line, don’t get too wrapped up in the “threats” part of your assessment. Try to remain positive yet realistic and focus (there’s that word again) on what you can control.

From Rags to Niches

Don’t start all over from scratch. Too inefficient. What you already have is more important than what you don’t have.  Expand upon what you know you’re already good at and what you know you enjoy. This not only saves time and energy but also builds self-esteem.  Focus on what you know you’re good at rather than what you do okay or a lot of things that you are alright at.

By now you should have a reasonable idea of what you are good at, what you enjoy, and for what you have a reasonable chance of success. You’ve narrowed down and began the process of focus. Has a picture formed? Does the past you and the present you mesh in any way in forming a predictable future? Something feasible to work toward? Something to improve upon?  Has taking a closer look at your past along with your present circumstances given you ideas for future growth?

Great! Okay, so now take that long list of things you do really well and form clusters to see if they are related in any way. Be innovative, be creative, think outside of the box.  Narrow your “resume” if you will down some by consolidating.  A lot of areas of interests and expertise, seemingly diverse and unrelated, can be grouped to form certain skillset/interest clusters. Brainstorm, look for connections and relationships between what you’ve accomplished in the past and what you’d like to do in the future. Focus is the first step in building and maintaining VALUE.

On another side note…Hold on! I can’t see the forest for the trees!

The Plan Bees- Balance & Backup 

On the other hand, if you’re too focused, with all the eggs in one basket, you can end up too limited. Focus is good, but you need to couple it with some realistic BALANCE.  Be a “generalist” within your niche, acting as a liaison with specialist partners. Have industry connections. Be part of a network, quickly able to form an expert team if necessary. Be able and willing to aid one another with expert advice and opinions. In the business world, this is referred to as the leveraging of resources.  

You also need a BACKUP plan, an exit strategy if you will, the ability to quickly adapt if situations take a sudden unexpected turn.  Having something to fall back on reduces worry and insecurity and builds courage, self-assurance and independence. It also shows stability, showing others you are trustworthy and responsible.

Final Random (yet focused) Thoughts 

  • Maintain balance & composure.
  • Use your resources wisely.
  • Cut distractions.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed- implement incremental changes slowly but surely.
  • Minimize where possible- too much stuff complicates life & often results in unnecessary expense, frustration & distraction.
  • Develop & maintain organization. Focus cannot occur amid chaos.
  • Keep your perspective- you are taking what you obviously know, your past experiences, but looking at them collectively & at an entirely different vantage point.
  • When all else fails, just work, just do, even if scattered. Remember nothing lasts forever so do things little by little until balance of mind is restored.
  • Most importantly, be thankful for what you do have and for what you have already been fortunate enough to accomplish.

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