Recentering and Refocusing

Recentering and Refocusing

SUMMARY: I’ve been feeling that there are too many things going on, diluting my efforts to make significant progress. But how do I pick what to focus on and what to ignore? First, I acknowledge that I am feeling uncertain about some aspects of my current work, getting the negative out in the open so I can have a good look at it. Then I synthesize the list of things to focus on for now that alleviate those fears through recommitment to principle.

This past Friday I was feeling pretty burned out, and so mentioned I it in the Google Wave-enabled “Do Not Hurry. Do Not Wait” experiment with Communicatrix. Do you know what happens when two verbose bloggers start using Google Wave? You get a flood of insights and anecdotes, that’s what! Highly recommended, if you can find yourself this situation! Checking what’s new on the Wave has become my favorite daily activity, as it provides a place to maintain my own sense of continuity while seeing how someone else handles their day. It’s entertaining and informative. I used to get this same sense of continuity from Twitter, but now I use it to see “what’s going on in the world.” As a result, my Twitter stream has become the antithesis of continuity and focus.

Anyway, on Friday I started a new Wave with Colleen™ with the theme of Recentering, Reducing, Refocusing, and Rebooting. It seemed to me that I had too many things going on delivering too little in return, and my impatience was rising. It’s been three whole months since I identified my master vantage point, which gave me a clear sense of where I wanted to go in 2010. And in that master vantage point, I’d identified five destinations I wanted to reach, each representing a type of success that I am confident will be worth the effort. In the time since pointing them out, I’ve made some progress on all fronts–printed pads at Amazon, starting a podcast, collaborating with more people on future products, and starting Agenceum–but growth is intolerably slow. Perhaps my expectations are unrealistic (that wouldn’t be a surprise), so I was thinking that I should narrow my focus to just a few things and not worry about the rest until I feel good about the progress. Given that my energy reserves are limited, that means I need to pour what I’ve got into fewer glasses. Right now I have what feels like a dozen half-empty glasses. I’d like them to fill faster.

dealing with dread

I had to admit to myself that this sudden impatience with my progress was driven by something I dreaded, though I wasn’t sure what it was. Was it a fear that I was already failing? Was it the ever-increasing pressure of needing to book some revenue in the short term? Was it the feeling that I should be faster? As I grouched about these issues in The Wave, Colleen made the observation that (and I’m immensely paraphrasing, here) communication with myself had broken down. This I thought was a DAZZLING insight. It was time to have a talk to myself, and I never pass up a chance to do that :-)

So I drove to Starbucks (it’s Sunday night now) for some coffee and light ambient noise. I then busted out an index card and allowed myself to have a good whine on it. It’s a little embarrassing to share, but I am going to do it anyway trusting that you all out there don’t presume that I feel like this all the time. This first step was my attempt to give shape to the “feeling of dread”; it’s NOT a cry out for help and Kleenex®.

Yikes, FEELINGS It took about 30 seconds to write out the first half of the card, which I did as a stream-of-consciousness exercise. What came out, I guessed, was the “who” I wasn’t communicating with while on my forced march to happiness.

Is it going to be ok? am I on the right path? Show me a sign dammit! am I really alone? Is there something wrong with me? Do I have a say in it? Am I just too scared? Too weak? Too untalented? Am I lovable by someone I can love? Will it happen, ever? Do I have to HUSTLE for love?

It’s a litany of doubt, self-consciousness, and fear of being overwhelmed by the loneliness of the march. I hadn’t expected, at the ripe old age of 42, to be making this march by myself. I had thought I’d be married by now, partnered with a kick-ass amazing woman that shared the sense of excitement of the quest.

After getting the fear down on paper where I could see it, my immune system kicked in, producing an unexpected burst of spiritual antibodies:

  • It really isn’t about me.
  • I am as I am
  • I am responsible for only 1/2 of the connection
  • I’m shooting for that rare 2%
  • Who do I need on my personal Board of Directors for wise counsel?

I wasn’t sure what these phrases meant, exactly, at the time I wrote them. I did know that I felt somewhat relieved at having restated some important truths. Looking at them again in the light of day, I can see that they are a kind of absolution from guilt. I’d accepted that my current state of existence is due to the way the cards have fallen: I’ve got to work with what I’ve been dealt (who I am), recognize that winning isn’t entirely up to me (it’s due to external factors too), and that my strategy has been to pursue something pretty damn rare (the 2% at the top). Impatient as I am, I’d sure like to know WHAT that rare thing is, and WHEN I’ll find it, but I also recognize that I need some additional oversight and guidance; this is a huge admission for desiring-to-be-self-sufficient me. Not so coincidentally, I’d been at a board meeting for Float Left Labs earlier, where we were just discussing the need to expand the board. It made sense then, and I realized it made sense for me too.

creating bins to receive effort

With the doubt settled for now, I then wrote out what was most important to me; these would become the focal points of my effort to see more rapid progress. I blanked my mind and let the words come.

Cards I wrote the words first, each on its own card, then went back and annotated them. Here’s what each one means:

  • COLLECTIVE – I’ve recognized that being an ego-less part of other people’s proejcts is essential to ground myself. I’m not sure why, but the efforts I make to be helpful to others in a group opens myself up in ways that somehow end up moving me forward. Perhaps it is allowing me to learn how to receive help too, and by understanding this I can see how together we can thrive. Isn’t that the point?
  • DESIGN AGENCY – I find it hard calling myself a “designer”, but that’s the closest label I can find that matches the set of skills I have. I’ve added “Agency” because it implies that there’s an operation behind the art, consisting of workflow, project management, marketing, sales, etc. Some of this I talk about on the Agenceum blog, but I have not done all I could. I have a LOT of material that I can pour into a design practice that is, ultimately, comprised of people that I like working with. And, I have a good idea of how I’d like to measure progress for a small agency, having worked in a few small shops in my time.
  • HEALTH – I’m thinking of renaming this WELL-BEING, but the general idea is that as I begin the second half of my life, I should be in good physical shape so I can enjoy it. This is something my Dad tells me from time to time, and for a man in his 80s he’s in great shape. Changing the name of this card to WELL-BEING would broaden the definition, including things like doing chores and budgeting better. In other words, treat myself right.
  • DAVENESS – I was surprised by this word but it popped right into my brain. It likely stems from the “I am as I am” statement I made earlier on my whining card. I’d also had the thought that Google Wave with Colleen™ had reminded me how unique everyone is, and that it can shine through even in a limited medium like text in the hands of a master writer like the Communicatrix. Even though I am not exactly sure what my most “marketable” skills are, I do know that the way I approach things resonates with a certain audience. It may be a very small audience, but it’s the one that I like…thanks for following along, dear readers! I know that the more I share what I love and do (“Daveness”), the better the opportunities that come my way. I may not be perfect, but God has imbued me with “Daveness”, and I’ve been entrusted to nurture it to full potential.

Next I have to create some simple means of tracking progress on all four focus areas. The most complex one is the Design Agency card; there are at least six agency roles, each with its own workflow and operational requirements. I’ll be working on that a little later today; I think the format will be different than what I’ve created before, but we’ll see.


  1. linlu 14 years ago

    Thank you for this very insightful post.  I just now realized how fortunate I am to have a partnership that I really didn’t understand was quite rare – especially given the longevity.  About the only tip I can give you is my own experience.  I wasn’t looking and we became friends at work.  In my case that seems to be the way the best things happen to me – in that I’m just there to see what it is and aren’t looking for anything.  You probably have a similar common thread to how the good stuff happened in your life.  If you follow that common thread, chances are you will find a partner.

    I also like the way you broke down the areas, they make the most sense to me.  I’ll have to try this exercise at home, since Design Agency is not me, but the concept of “I am as I am” (in my case my linlu-ness) is me.

  2. Fabian 14 years ago

    Always good to spend some time with oneself getting a grip on the uncomfortable thoughts in one’s head.

    I just wanted to make a short remark: At least for me, being an outsider, it’s quite impressive how things got moving here in the last few months. So although you personally may feel it’s going too slow, there certainly is a lot of stuff going on. Focusing on less may help, but be it as it may, at least I was really impressed these weeks to see a lot of great new stuff popping up here. Keep it up and don’t lose your patience, Dave!

  3. Amanda Pingel 14 years ago

    This post happened to fall on my RSS feed right next to this one

    and reminded me of your “Daveness” category.  Among her insights:

    “Authenticity is incredibly efficient. Consistency builds velocity. When you’re who you really are, people know what to expect of you, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

    So I think you’re on the right track.

  4. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Linlu: Thanks for the story! Yah, I’d have to say that the good things have just happened to me, and I’ve been blessed by that. The thought, though, that I might be missing something still nags at me…this post was a reminder to keep the faith. Although it just occurred to me that trying the same thing over and over again is also said to be a sign of stupidity…ah well…Can’t win! :-)

    Fabian: Thanks for the outside perspective and encouragement! I don’t have a realistic sense of what I should be able to accomplish, perhaps. Partly this is from working in a creative vacuum for so long. Perhaps I should have stayed in the work force longer…but again thanks for giving me an external data point!

    Amanda: Thanks for passing it along! I particularly like the part of about making your own rules :-) I wonder if people “know what to expect” from I keep thinking about how much clearer it needs to be.

  5. Avrum 14 years ago

    David – my psychoanalytic colleagues would be impressed with this post. They would also re-title your tag: Better analyzing through New Media.

    Alas, it’s hard to work with transference/counter-transference in this medium, but your audience can provide support, share stories, etc.

    As a late-bloomer to marriage, and one who had this thought:

    “I had thought I’d be married by now”

    many, many times, I do hope you make it to the alter. It would seem you have many wonderful gifts to share… as a dad and husband.

  6. Rich 14 years ago

    Love the post Dave – we all have these internal battles, and it is all very well learning from your own history, but seeing another’s reasoning is a ‘sorbet for the soul’!

    I especially like the “Daveness”. I often think for me around my ‘Richness’ with the added advantage of the connotations of the noun.


  7. Stephen Smith 14 years ago

    I have been feeling bogged-down myself for a while now, ever since I was deathly ill in Oct/Nov. It has been hard to get caught up with all of my inputs and obligations, and my “day job” as a restaurant manager has been consuming almost all of my waking moments.

    I got an “A-ha” moment when I set up a Kanban board see a pic here to organize my Next Action and Project cards: I had way too many things going on at the same time!
    Time to re-organize, re-evaluate and prioritize & delegate.

    Now I am feeling much better about where I stand, and am able to focus on doing the things that are important, not just the urgent things.

  8. Gary Constantine 14 years ago

    Dave my friend, you are one gifted writer, and courageous in sharing with us your pursuits in such a deeply personal way, it rouses alot of emotions and benefits I think all of us can connect with in one way or another! 

    I’m also a very impatient person as you know. One reality which I’m always reminded of though, is that the art of reinventing yourself either in a career or a new business, especially if you are targeting a niche market, or developing a new market altogether, takes a minimum of 5 years to establish, give a take a year either way depending upon your certain level of related skills/competency. 

    So this is where my sense of urgency stems from, and having experienced this many times, things just take time, much more time than we like.  But time is precious, its not time spent in the mindset of “build it and they will come” mode either, you have to relentlessly go after what you want, innovating, marketing, refining, and really producing content based upon varying bodies of work both great and small, all while minimizing the non-value add distractions.  Anything less than that is actually working against you.

    I won’t kid anyone here, there are no shortcuts in getting “established”, and once we decide to break free or have been removed from the vocational work force/career path, the competition is fierce for securing new customers.  Today we’re also no longer competing against similar other products and services either, people are overextended today, so whatever we are trying to penetrate with must displace something often different that the customer already has or is already doing/buying.  So on top of whatever unique product or service you may think you have, quite honestly “guerilla strategy and tactics” are needed just to increase your chances for survival! 

    I’d also like to challenge or rather expand upon Amanda’s borrowed statement above which read; “Authenticity is incredibly efficient. Consistency builds velocity. When you’re who you really are, people know what to expect of you, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

    To me, authenticity itself is not incredibly efficient by any means, its unique, its valued, its appreciated, its complimented, but its only developed through persistently producing, all while struggling through continuous refinement, which requires perserverence, staying power, degrees of open-mindedness, and focus. 

    Consistency doesn’t build velocity either, only acceleration does, brought on by increased fuel and a steady hand, and through all kinds of weather.  You have to step on it if you want to build velocity, while ensuring all of the other underpinnings are retaining their integrity, or you shred apart.

    When we are engaged in these ways, thats when people recognize us for sure automatically for what we are, as we’re already doing it.  Further, to me its far more important that we know what we can expect from ourselves first, not about thinking about what others might expect from us.  The “beautiful thing” to me is when we’re in complete alignment with ourselves, anxieties disappear, and then things accelerate. 

    Just my 2 cents…

  9. Julian Summerhayes 14 years ago

    Dear Dave

    I am really grateful for sharing these thoughtful ideas and some of what you say sounds like to could have been quite difficult to commit to. I am the same age as you and have spent my life continually asking myself the question “Is this is” but not in the sense that I am grateful for what I have – heck I have a fantastic family and a great job – but I still feel a need to keep scratching away. There is an unpredictability about my inner voice which even with some very heavy accented prompt cards – accented mainly on success (YEH what’s that) I still find myself, a bit like some of what you are saying drifting off and thinking about places I should have been to or people I should have met or just things I should have done. Having had a very Victoria upbringing where I was told just to accept my lot (which I thought was nonsense) I suppose that inner voice has been suppressed quite a bit. I have though this year decided to a) keep things simple, b) start doing and stop talking and c) just let go and see what happens.

    Best of luck with all your projects and if you want a top tip on the wellbeing front, get a bike and go for some very long rides – quite spiritual.

  10. Stephen Smith 14 years ago

    Gary, that is worth at least 75 cents.