Need Some Focus

Hunchback of Chu: “…No matter how huge heaven and earth, or how numerous the ten thousand things, I’m aware of nothing but cicada wings. Not wavering, not tipping, not letting any of the other ten thousand things take place of those cicada wings—how can I help but succeed?”

–Zhuang-zi, section 19, trans. Burton Watson

Taoism is something I don’t talk much about in this blog but in my high-school and college years it was a great interest of mine. Zhuang-zi (莊子) was the other great early Taoist writer besides Lao-zi and his writings have a number of important themes. For example, Zhuang-zi wrote that a person should devote oneself to a single trade or skill and completely master it. There are many stories in Zhuang-zi’s writings expressing this point.

I mention this because it’s something I reflect on from time to time. I have lots of hobbies and projects but I never seem to finish any of them. I like learning many different things but I am mediocre at all of them. So sometimes I think Zhuang-zi is right and that I should shut out everything else and devote myself to one thing and master it.

The truly great, successful people in life seem to find what naturally appeals to them and devote their lives to it. They might be terrible at other things, but they have a labor of love and when they do it, people agree “that guy/girl is really good.”

For me, it’s not that I want success. I like my life as it is now, but I would like to feel I have fully accomplished something. Have something I can be proud of, I guess.

Question is: is it worth devoting oneself to one thing, and if so what should I focus on? That’s something I haven’t solved yet.

Advice from readers is certainly appreciated.


Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

15 thoughts on “Need Some Focus”

  1. Wanting to do many things, I think what’s most important to me and for what I can do the most at that moment. Then I make a plan when I can do all these things after setting my priorities.


  2. When you come across that which will engage you fully and the desire to focus in on it you will know. It may come sooner or later..untill then live life fully & well each day?


  3. Question is: is it worth devoting oneself to one thing, and if so what should I focus on?

    Unenlightened beings beyond number, I will save.
    Continuously arising delusions and defilements, I will dissolve.
    The infinite teachings of the Dharma, I will learn.
    Incomparable enlightenment, I will attain.


  4. It is a good thing that you enjoy many things. There will be a time when one thing come above others, then you will be able to concentrate on that. Anyway enjoy as many thing as possible, because I think that will make your choice broader.


  5. I am same as you… In my room there are many prjects and also routine works that I am busy daily with them… I can’t make a plan or being focus on one project… Actually Zhuang-zi is so right, I agree with his thoughts. At the beginning I was making this a problem to myself but then I stopped it. And I just listen to my inner voice… It is being a leader for my day… Whatever I feel within being busy I try to be focus on this… Because this is my way,…. I accepted myself like that and I am happy… Yesterday I was writing poetry and today I take pictures… Maybe if I would have devoted myself on one subject, I would be a poet or a painter, etc. But I don’t care this… I am happy being in different fields and having different voyages in such a beautiful learning roads…
    Thank you for this subject that you shared with us and let us to share with you our thoughts too.
    Have a nice day, with my love, nia


  6. Hi Everyone and thank you. Lots of great comments, though maybe too many to reply to individually. (typing this in a hurry… apologies for brevity)

    I think a lot of people raised a good point: priority. I guess one shouldn’t necessarily expect to get everything done, so it’s a matter of decided what’s important and focus on that.

    I like the idea of being a generalist sometimes, but then again I’d like to get at least one thing accomplished with a satisfactory outcome. πŸ™‚

    @Dan: I did think about writing a book but it just became “another project”, still sitting half done. 3 books in fact. :-0


  7. I’ve just had a lesson and one of my students confessed not to have a religion. She knew Shintoism and Budhism but argued that the religious life in Japan is declining because my young people no longer care about religion. Is that true?

    Subhan Zein


  8. All I can offer you is the benefit of my own experience. I grew up focused upon an acting career. I took theatre in college and was well on the road to a successful career in film when I had a spiritual epiphany that changed everything. I realized that acting itself hadn’t been as important to me as becoming ‘famous’ and that no amount of fame would ever make me happy if I couldn’t resolve inner feelings of inadequacy first. For the following 10 years, I devoted myself to a spiritual path and eshewed all performing, thinking that it was purely an ego activity and contrary to my priority, enlightenment. Recently, I’ve been “starting over” – or as the Zen say – returning to “beginners mind”, and working with a few books by Debbie Ford. I discovered that I was holding onto a regret about cutting my acting career short. I considered that perhaps I had tossed the baby out with the bathwater. For over 10 years since then, I thought I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing in the world. I felt lost and unmotivated, thinking that only the ‘spiritual’ dimension or an ‘awakening’ would solve my feelings of displacement. On the occasion that I considered performing, I rejected it, thinking that it was long over, and would only tempt me to return to old, destructive patterns. Yet, to the contrary, what I learned earlier this week, was that I had only been denying the expression of an energy that was vitally important to me, life giving and joyful, and that holding onto stupid ideas from the past was distorting the reality of my whole self. The energy that has been returned to me upon this realization is staggering! I am suddenly SO motivated, I can barely sit still, and I’ve already begun action on a project that arose in my mind like divine providence – and is an incredibly gentle step for me to return to my passion. I feel 100% like a new person! I hope what I offer helps you in some way. I have confidence that somewhere within you, a passion burns longingly, waiting for it’s moment of release. Blessings to you, brother!


  9. Dear Doug,

    Perhaps if you have an interest in focusing in a new way you could start small. Like say take one of your projects and make it your aim to focus on it in the time you have solely for a fortnight or a month. In this way your ability would improve in the specified skill and also it would be a valuable experiment in which you can learn about yourself and your dynamic.
    Then you will be able to apply yourself to the natural state your enjoy with more awareness and know if you wish to be a focused or generalised person.
    A holiday of focus perhaps you will try ^^
    Emily πŸ™‚


    1. Hi Emily and welcome! Sorry for the late reply, been busy with work this week.

      Anyhow, I really like your idea of a “holiday of focus” and just might do it in the near future. Thanks very much for the suggestion.

      Thank you everyone for your suggestions. πŸ™‚


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