A tree is a good way to represent a series of decisions. Start at the trunk and move to smaller and smaller branches, each branch tip representing one o the many possibilities. A tree representing a persons life would be immense, far larger than any tree on Earth. There are an incredible number of possibilities that arise due to a persons choices, and every waking moment we move along a path. But there is one stark difference between this tree and a real tree. With the decision tree, you can cross back over to other paths.
I started thinking about this years ago when I was trying to figure out my own path in life. Like a lot of people out there, I love exploring many different things, trying different foods, learning skills, experimenting, learning, working, and growing as much as I can. Sadly a day only has 24 hours, a third of which is spent asleep. So when I want to do something new or something I really enjoy, it can be tough to decide what to drop to accommodate it. It’s like being on that decision tree and constantly hopping between a few branches as you go.
But the problem with hopping between a few branches is that you never go as far along each one. You’ll move forward on each one, but only a little bit. A question I’ve asked myself many times is “Is it better to focus on one thing and do very well, or focus on a lot of things and become adept?”
It’s ‘Jack of all trades, but a master of none’ vs. ‘An inch wide and a mile deep.’ But like a true lover of life and experience, I want to be both. I want to dabble in a few things, while also getting really good at one thing. These ideas are generally at odds, but what if there’s an in-between?
A thought I had about it recently was this: To do the thing you really like, you have to give up a bunch of things you kinda like.
The more I think about it, the more I think it’s not true. I think there is an in-between along the everything or one thing spectrum. I think you can centralize your focus on that one thing you truly enjoy, but bring in elements of the things you ‘kinda like’ and incorporate them into what you actually end up doing.
Inevitably if you fully explore that one thing you truly love doing, you’ll start to add in things you like. For example, I love astronomy, but I enjoy photography, writing, and performing. For this reason, a part time hobby of mine has become astrophotography, I write this blog (often as I can) which generally focusses on astronomy, and I perform planetarium shows. In the past, I’ve tried other types of photography, I’ve tried writing different content, and I’ve performed other science. I enjoy all of these things, but they aren’t my passion. I can do that thing I love, digging deep on it, while still bringing in other things tangentially, scratching the ‘do-everything’ itch.
Maybe the answer is that you don’t have to choose one thing, or one branch for that matter. Maybe the hopping from branch to branch can be hopping from twig to twig on one branch that extends a long way. Perhaps I made the choice of what I want to do a long time ago, and now all I’ve been trying to figure out is how best to do that thing.
No matter what, it’s always good to check in and see where you are. Sometimes you don’t realize you’ve strayed from your path until you’ve gone a long way off.