Breadth versus Depth

I like to keep myself busy, as readers probably noticed. ๐Ÿ™‚ But since Little Guy was born, I’ve been even more busy, so I’ve been trying to manage my time better. So, I started writing down all my little hobbies, and here’s what I found:

  • Main blog (the one you’re reading right now ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).
  • YouTube videos (Beginner Buddhism series)
  • Learning Korean: listening and vocabulary.
  • Learning Japanese: listening, Heisig kanji, vocabulary.
  • C++ programming, more on that in a later post
  • Classic Video games
  • Writing short stories, such as this one
  • Playing around with FreeBSD
  • Buddhism: meditation, devotionals, books/study, etc.
  • Reading books by Roger Zelazny

When I wrote this down I realized I have a lot of projects!

Then, I tried to manage all these projects by scheduling different “nights” to do different projects. Thursday I would read Zelazny books, Friday I would write the blog, etc. Within a week though, I started ignoring this schedule. I spent three days playing video games, and two days reading Zelazny’s Amber series.

Then, I started thinking I might have to reduce my projects. I was inspired by this great post by Khatzumoto at AJATT. He argues that the key to success in any project is to really want it and to do that project exclusively. He had a couple good quotes that I wanted to re-post here:

  • โ€œDiscipline is remembering what you want.โ€ — David Campbell
  • “Effort over time to the exclusion of other pursuits.โ€ — Steve Martin (more on Steve Martin here, a good read)

So, if I wanted to get really good at a language like Japanese (or Korean or C++ programming), or a better writer, or a better, more professional blogger, then I would have to give up other projects and focus on that project only. The only way this would work is if I really, really liked that hobby. Because, if I don’t really like that hobby, I’ll get bored or burned out in a few weeks or months.

But now, this brings a new problem: what do I like and what should I focus on?

This is a silly question in a way: if I really like something, I won’t be asking that question right? I’ll just be really passionate about something and keep doing it. That narrows things down to Japanese language (been studying since 2009), blogging (been blogging since 2005) and studying Buddhism (also 2005). The other things are nice, but a distraction.

On the other hand, why should I give up all my other hobbies? It’s ok to suck, especially if I am happy. Sometimes small happiness is better than big happiness (e.g. success).

So, I’m in a quandry I guess. I guess I’m not dedicated or passionate about any one thing, so I am not very good at any one thing. But I would like to be good at something though. On the other hand, I enjoy many different subjects and experimenting with things.

So it’s an question of breadth (many hobbies, shallow understanding) or depth (one or two hobbies only, deep understanding).

Maybe I’m just thinking too much though. My wife often tells me that). ๐Ÿ˜‰


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.

6 thoughts on “Breadth versus Depth”

  1. I frequently think about this! I think this is a problem held by many. On most days, the ones when I don’t over-think it too much, I’ve come to this conclusion: I would like to be a great proficient at many things, but no one thing holds my heart enough to be a life goal so worthy as to throw everything else aside. So instead I do my best to prioritize. I give more time to the things I deem more important to me and less time to the ‘silly’ little things, but I give time to everything I love at least SOME of the time. I would personally rather have a life of many little experiences than a life lived in one area of expertise. Perhaps this is why when I went to college I got 5 different associates degrees. XD


    1. Ha ha ha I guess I am not the only one. I didn’t get 5 degrees but I did change majors quite a bit in college. I started with physics/astronomy and ended up graduating in International Studies instead. Somehow it worked out though amazingly.


      1. I thought about changing degrees, but since I was at an associates level I just couldn’t bring myself to CHANGE when I only needed usually about 15 hours, or one semester, more to completely ADD a new degree. Then again I’m a bit crazy. I just love learning and soaked up every degree at the time that I wanted. (And now, alas, I want more.) International Liberal Arts is one of my degrees =)


  2. Awesome post! A topic that I’ve been struggling with as well. Hope you don’t mind if I chime in, but I’ve been tweaking my schedule a lot lately. The quick and dirty version is: while I do have certain days that are devoted to certain things, there are some projects that I work at a little bit each day.

    Eisa drumming’s on Sunday, but it’s also like a crash course in Japanese. I spend a bit each night the rest of the week (as I have time & energy) studying a bit of Japanese (written & spoken).

    Wednesday’s looking like my big martial arts day (muay thai & boxing), but I’m in the gym most weekdays.

    Found a little Buddhist group near my house that meets on Thursdays (the Chinese Pure Land group is just not that feasible for me), but I spend at least a little bit of time each day practicing and studying (whether I can get in a full-blown formal session or not).

    This routine may not live up to Khatzumoto’s standards, but it seems to work. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe he learned Japanese at 22 before the demands of adulthood had fully set in and given that he studied upwards of 18 hours a day, I seriously doubt he had significant demands on his time – such as a difficult major or a family. In other words, we have a different life situation, so we’ve gotta tackle things differently. For us, the key is probably staying engaged and interested, so it doesn’t become easy to let the other demands on our time get in the way and allow us to put it up on the shelf. Just keep grinding and you’ll get there.

    I think he may have a point when it comes to multiple languages, but my friends that have gone after Korean and Japanese have actually done quite well (I think you’re no exception to this). Korean and Japanese have a similar (or at least related) cultural history, similar ideas about formality/politeness, similar grammar, and even some shared words. I used to study mandarin & Japanese at the same time when I lived in Japan, and while I never got all that good at mandarin, I can’t say the time spent studying it was counterproductive to my study of Japanese; in fact it actually had carryover. Sometimes, it’s nice to have another mode to switch into when studying – something to still keep your mind engaged, but help you to break free of the monotony. At the same time, I can also see the scenario of accidentally falling into the “wrong” language or getting them mixed up.

    It may also help to leverage your different hobbies in a synergistic fashion. For example: what if you read the Japanese version of a Zelazny book and translated it into Korean? Or the Korean version and translated it into Japanese? You can set up your UI in FreeBSD in Korean or Japanese if you wish. You can play classic games in the Japanese version too. Writing fiction in a foreign language is also really good practice, like richv did with ใ‚†ใใฎ็‰ฉ่ชž (available on the Japanese Page dot com). Get creative so your hobbies don’t become distractions or compete with each other.


    1. Hi Eric,

      That’s a good point and I had thought about that too: I doubt Khatzumoto had kids at the time when he learned Japanese, so conditions certainly do matter. If he has kids now, I wonder if is able to keep up language studies like he used to.

      I haven’t been too diligent on my daily tasks, so it’s kind of fallen apart, but oh well. I’m still getting stuff done, so I can’t complain.


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