Why Don’t You Just Focus On One Thing?: Why I Do Everything I Want

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Why Don't You Just Focus On One Thing? 3 dre baldwinI was on the phone with a female friend the other day and she was asking me, essentially, why I had my hands in so many things instead of focusing on only one.

“Why not just play ball, or just write? Why do modeling too, and speaking, and all these websites and YouTube, and training programs, why not just do one and do the rest later? If you’d focus on only one, you might be able to reach the top level of it!”

I find this point — verbalized to me by several people at various times over the years, and it comes more often the more I choose to have my hands in — to not make any sense. If thought deeply about, you would see things the same way I do (haha), and I’ll get to that. First, let me address the source of these comments.

Many people lead their lives by the old way of thinking. We’ll call this The Plan:

  1. Go to school
  2. Pick what you want to do, right then and there
  3. Study it from textbooks and lectures from people who may not necessarily have lived it
  4. Prove your recall memory in standardized tests many times over, subsequently get a diploma/degree
  5. Go work for someone in said field and live happily ever after.

I have never subscribed to this and the very thought of it made me sick even as a middle school student. My mother is a teacher and it was always obvious to me, even in my early years, that this was her blueprint for my sister and me (my sister has followed it to perfection and beyond). But I always knew I would be doing things in my life differently than I saw most people doing things. I didn’t know what I would be doing or how, but I knew I would be making my own lane.

Most people around me growing up — namely my teachers and family members — followed the above 5-step program. The friend who recently implored me to do “just one thing” also has lived her life following this plan. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with this plan. The thing is, the people who follow The Plan can only see things from the perspective of living The Plan. They don’t understand why someone would go to school and get a degree only to do something in their lives that is completely unrelated to the degree. Or why someone would do multiple things that could each be focused on individually. Or why someone wouldn’t covet the security of a job. Or why a person would make a living doing something that does not have a clearly defined, fits-in-this-box description.

So allow me to address each one, piece by piece.

Why Would You Go To College If You Were Not Going To Use Your Degree?

I went to college for 3 reasons:

  1. I wanted to play basketball professionally, thus I needed the four years of seasoning. I would not have become a pro without those four years.
  2. I wanted and need the social experience of being around other people from other cultures and places. The social aspect of college was a very close second to the basketball in terms of what I gained from college (notice that I didn’t mention the classes).
  3. I had no idea at all what I would’ve done with myself had I not gone to college. I didn’t have any money, and no job that would have paid me enough to live as an independent adult. I also hadn’t developed any useful skills by age 18 that were worth anything to the world — all of my abilities became usefully developed between ages 18-22.

[Some basketball players ask me dumb shit like how can they go play overseas while skipping college basketball. You can read that post, but the short answer is, you probably can’t. You’re not good enough.]

Still-Why Don't You Just Focus On One Thing? dre baldwinThe social aspect of college alone was worth the money for me. My developing athletic skills, budding skill in dealing with females, and being semi-on my own were all huge for me. The social abilities I gained during college are invaluable and I would not have gotten those anywhere else. I also made friends in college who are now my closest friends.

My Philadelphia public school education taught me all the basics — how to read and write (my mom could’ve done this on her own, it should be noted), basic mathematics, an maybe 5-10 other useful things… in 13 years (age 5-18). In my estimation, that’s a hell of a lot of time invested to learn very little information that I have actually found uses for.

Remember the factor-label method? Or the quadratic formula? Or The Catcher In The Rye? Or anything we did in those chemistry labs? Or art class? Music class? Statistics? Or the dumb-ass quotes my 6th grade teacher made us copy into our books at the start of class every day (WHY)? Or any of the other useless information that I don’t even remember memorizing just so I could pass the tests/classes/grades? All bullshit. None of it applies to my life now.

I was no dummy though. I knew what the game was. Failing classes and/or whole grades in school was just as bad for you socially as it was academically. Failing meant you’d be in classes with younger students, you had a sort of black mark on you for being the dumb one who had to retake the class/grade. Further — and more importantly — my mother would’ve killed me. Those reasons were enough to motivate me into giving just enough effort to get through high school, and that’s exactly what I did: Just enough work to pass.

I knew I needed to pass classes and get to the next grades so I could get to what I really wanted: college (getting out of my parents’ house was just as strong a motivator as basketball) and the “Real World”.

[I will give credit to Spanish class: the fundamentals I learned there really helped my recall when I played pro ball in Mexico, as well as now living in Miami.]

I studied business management and marketing in college. Even more bullshit than high school. Why? Have you ever though about the fact that the people teaching business classes in colleges (my college professors, at least) don’t even run businesses? You’re an employee — you have a job at this school. What the fuck can you teach me about running a business when you don’t even run one? This is such a hypocritical aspect of my business degree that makes it laughable, really. I don’t use a damn thing any of those professors taught me in my business life now. Nothing.

Think about this: If you want to play college basketball, wouldn’t you want to learn from someone who actually did it? Or a person who merely studied it and watched it, but has no experience in the environment? I know what my choice would be. To be fair, business management/marketing (my degree) could lead to an employment position, too — a point that is not lost on me. I’ll address this in the next paragraph.

I remember at the end of my senior year we had to complete 9-credit hours of internships. I wrote about my bullshit internship here, and long story short, I did very little work. Watching all of my fellow business majors give their final internship presentations, I remember thinking to myself, these people are going to get full-time jobs at the same places they interned at, and that’s exactly what they want. Good for them. Bottom line, the American educational system is designed to spit out employees. Employees are people who are told what to do, do it, and get paid for doing what they were told. Employees are people who are trained (in 22 years or more of school) to follow directions and do it to perfection. You high school or college valedictorian is probably a very successful employee right now. I don’t like anyone being able to tell me what to do. I knew, before I had even taken one college course, that I did not want to be an employee.

I needed those four college years to find myself, find my voice, find out what I really wanted to do with my life, and last but not least, discover the internet in earnest (which was, as you can see, life-changing). I used college to accomplish those things. I did not, and still do not, give a fuck about a degree.

Why Don’t You Get A Job Doing __________ (Job That People With My Degree Do)?

I have basically covered this question in the above paragraphs. And the simple answer is, I didn’t/don’t want to.

My college education didn’t teach me how to do anything unique or creative or innovative. Think about it — we are all being taught the same information. How can you be creative when your assignment is to memorize the same shit as 30-100 other people (in your class, let alone all the other college students out there)? All of my marketing, promotion and sales abilities were gleaned from reading books and actual real-life experiences (jobs, of which I have had more than you probably think).

If I present you 30 fresh-out-of-their-robes college graduates today, what creative or unique information does any one of them really have? Not much, at that point. All 30 of them had to remember and regurgitate the exact same information in order to get their degrees. The only thing separating the top student form the bottom graduate is how well they were able to memorize and retell what they were taught, for the most part. And what does that really prove? Not a damned thing.

I have always felt I was different from the average person in any group I’ve ever been a part of. I felt that growing up, playing kickball in the driveway. I felt it in high school. I felt it in those college class, where I often felt like the only one who wasn’t taking any of it seriously. I still feel it now, in any group I’m involved in. If I were to get a job doing what everyone else with a business degree does, I’d be just another number, doing what school trained me to do. And I just cannot be that person.

Why Don’t You Just Focus On One Thing, Instead Of Doing All That Stuff At Once? You’re A Jack-Of-All-Trades But A Master Of None!

This is a real misnomer out there in the world: there is no such thing as doing “just one thing”. No one actually does that. Name the best musician you like or the best athlete you watch or best author you read. They all have other interests, other things that they spend time on and try to get better at. They may not publicize it and you may not even know what that thing/those things are, but no one spends 24 hours per day doing just one activity.

Do you do that? Only one thing? Especially if you’re one who asks the “Why don’t you get a job” question — a lot of people I know who have jobs have some aspect of that job they don’t like. Which means that they do the things they do like when they’re not at work. Don’t you like doing multiple things? Why Don't You Just Focus On One Thing? 2 dre baldwinWhether you decide to pursue them any further than a quiet hobby is your choice, but no one does just one thing.

The difference with me is, I do many things, and make those things public. When you share what you like doing — your art, which is what writing, playing basketball, modeling, and speaking essentially are — it will be judged. People who have never done it will criticize it. You’ll be compared, in the eyes of the beholder, to the people who are considered the best in the field and hear, “You’re not _______ (said best person).” That kind of attention, even a small amount by a very small audience, can wilt people. And doing many things that you let the public know about is not the best move for those people.

I don’t have that problem.

Why Wouldn’t You Want To Have Steady, Guaranteed Paycheck?

Ask that question to someone who’s been laid off recently. Or the person whose rent got increased while their paycheck did not. Like I tell young players looking to go overseas: no paycheck is guaranteed until you cash it and see the cash.

Guarantees are expensive.

When you extract a guarantee from someone, you’re usually giving something in return. So, those of you with guaranteed paychecks, what is the cost of it? Your time (the most valuable resource there is) is a cost. Your physical presence is a cost. The fact that you can’t do what you want, when you want, how you want while at work is a cost. And we spend more time working than doing anything else.

I choose to trade the ability to call my own shots, every day, in exchange for the guarantee. The thrill of the chase, if you will. I chose that. And I love it.

What Exactly Is It That You Do? I Don’t Understand It!!??

Well, it’s not really important that you understand but I don’t see how you couldn’t. I do many things, all stuff I enjoy. The people who tell me they “don’t understand what [I] do” are usually the same people who also ask the previous three questions. They want to be able to put my existence — and in America, we define ourselves by what we do for a living, don’t we? — in a  neat box that is along the lines with what they would do if they were me. But that’s not the situation.

What I Do: What I want to do. What I like to do. The things that fulfill me and make me happy. Then I find a way to make money doing them. Good enough? Good.

***

A final note: this post is not written as a criticism of people who choose to follow The Plan or live differently than me or work in a different field or who make different decisions as to how they’ll spend their prime years. My parents, as a prime example, had two children by age 21 and chose 9-to-5 jobs to make sure their family was taken care of (this was also the 1980s, a time when “starting a website” or making “YouTube videos” were foreign terms).  Could it have been different? That’s not my call to make. Unlike many of the people who ask me the question that makes up this post’s title, I pass no judgement on how another person chooses to live, as long as it’s legal and honest and they’re not hurting other people in order to do it. It doesn’t have to be the way I chose to live or what I chose to do or what I think you should do with your life (which would be ridiculous, when I see that in written form. Right?).

I wrote this for the same reason I wrote most of this website: because I get asked many questions over and over again, and this one is one of them. So this post clears it up. Now I can link some this post instead of saying everything I wrote. Simple, ain’t it?

The decision my parents made, the decisions you make, and the decisions I make are the best decisions for each of us as we see it. And how each of us sees things in our own lives, in the end, is all that matters.

12 Comments

  1. I’m going to be somebody Dre. I don’t know how or what, but this is the plan!

  2. Brilliant post,i agree with everything that you wrote here,even though i am way younger than you,and haven’t experienced what you have,but i know where you’re coming from and i understand that the way we are programed to live is total BS,that’s why i’m never going to get a college diploma so i can do something i don’t like and waste my valuable time.

  3. Man Dre this hits right at home with me. I’m going to be starting college in the fall, and I’ve always been big on doing my own thing. I’ve never wanted to be an employee, like you said I just wanna do what I want. I try to explain to my friends that I just wanna do what I want, but they don’t get it because it doesn’t relate to a college degree. Its great to know someone as successful as yourself has a similar mentality.

    • Gavin, exactly. You have to follow your own convictions; in the end you’ll only have to answer to yourself.

  4. Hey dre you said in one motivation, if you try to be someone different that you are you Will not feel confortable, you gonna struggle.
    But what about The fake till we make it ?
    Thanks

    • Every situation must be looked at individually and objectively. Just as there are times in life to be patient, and there are times when immediate action is necessary.
      Whatever you encounter, you read the situation, decide and act. There could be ten different, conflicting theories for any situation you face — the choices you make, will make you who you are.

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