Closing Doors: Why you Should Focus if you Want to be Good at Anything at All

Months ago I read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. The book was full of awesome tidbits of information regarding people’s buying habits and attitudes towards money among other things–but one idea stuck with me more than any other.  That’d be the idea of closing doors.

Dan Ariely, a former professor of behavioral economics at MIT and current James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, set up a study to understand people’s attitudes towards “keeping their options open.”  He put together a computer game where participants had the opportunity to click on one of three doors.  Each subsequent click inside a room corresponded with a certain payout (of real money).  The best strategy was to explore all three doors and then settle on the room with the highest payout; but iteration after iteration of the study found that the participants were so averse to “closing doors” (i.e., losing options) that they’d do anything it took to keep them all open, even at the cost of cold hard cash.  You can read more about his study here.

I think we all know what it’s like to want to keep our options open.  Students are brought up to be well-rounded.  Heck, I was.  I’ve had my own short-term debuts as an all-state soccer player, a flutist, an award-winning poet, a member of my high school student council, editor-in-chief of a student body publication, skydiver-in-search-of-certification, national honor society webmaster, astronomy club whatever–and then later in life, orchidologist, marketer, short-story writer, runner, weight-lifter, blogger, guitar-player-wannabe–and yada, yada, yada.  My experiences are so diverse that I’ve been the barn manager at a llama farm, a wedding planner, a festival ticket booth coordinator, a personal chef’s assistant, and one of the only people in the nation to get a Fredclarkeara afterdark orchid to bloom.  I think that the confusing part is that I was pretty good at a lot of it–but what Ariely’s book taught me is that if I want to be really good at anything at all (and if I want to make some money at it), it’s time to FOCUS.  I’ve got to close some of these doors.

What I care about more than anything is family, health, food, and business (and maybe in that order).  I now see writing as a tool to help me in my other endeavors rather than an endeavor upon itself.  And I’ve decided that given my goal (to make a real difference in the world by combining food and business), all the other crap really needs to fall to the wayside.  I can read Russian literature later.  Watch “The Bachelor” because I think it will help me understand young ladies my age later.  Read Vogue magazine because at one point in time I really wanted to be a fashion designer later.  Or maybe I can do those things never at all.  Understanding my true passions and goals in life has imbued me with a certain single mindedness that has allowed me to say “yes” or “no” to each potential task–and opportunity–in front of me with a decisiveness previously unexperienced.

I used to be the kind of girl who would force myself to read my magazine from front to back.  Every.  Single.  Word.  As I writer, I wanted to acquire every experience in the book so that I could understand, and therefore, write about them.  I’ve seen the world’s second largest boiling lake.  I was a waitress.  I’ve road-tripped across the nation–twice.  I’ve tasted Chinese chili peppers to know what they taste like–and cried.  I’ve been the kind of girl who said yes to everything and no to almost nothing.

What do you really care about!?  Who do you aspire to be?  How much time do you really have in this life, and how are you going to accomplish what it is that you care about more than anything if you’re a version of my old me, someone who wanted to do and experience everything because you didn’t know how to say no, how to FOCUS?  Figure out what you’re passionate about, and then close every single door that doesn’t help you get there.

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