Focus: A Place for Everything

What I wished I’d known when I started my career – #8

By Free-Photos from pixabay via

As part of a career panel today, I was asked to speak about the most important career advice I was ever given. And for a minute, I couldn’t think of any. Thank goodness there were other panelists! I’ve certainly been given career advice and read endless books and articles. And yet, when pressed, it’s hard to remember specific advice that was given to me. It’s all been absorbed and stored in one big amalgam in the career section of my brain.

But I remembered one — In 11th grade, my French teacher said to me and another girl that we needed to focus. We were participating in too many school activities, taking so many AP classes, and spreading ourselves too thin. I was annoyed! I wanted to be EVERYTHING — lead the newspaper, volunteer, be a mentor, and so on. Why did I have to stop? I ignored her.

And yet, that moment has stuck with me. She was asking us to be truly great…at less. Maybe she saw what we now know. That, as women, we were taking on more of the burden of taking care of others, in this case through school activities. Maybe she also saw our stress levels rising, an issue now known and notable in high school teens.

Regardless, she was ultimately right. When people ask me the oh-so-modern “can we have it all” question, I think of her. Non! We can have some things. We can have very nice things. We can have various things at different times in our life. But no, at this moment, we must prioritize. We must decide what is truly crucial: family, health, marriage, work, friends, hobbies, and so on. We double down on what’s important, and we spend less time on everything else. That’s how we become truly great.

Ultimately this advice has been critical in my career, and I didn’t know it when I started. As I have more phases to my life, I’ve become more intentional. Today I had a big presentation. Tomorrow my kids start school, and I’ll focus on them. Next week I’m taking a relaxing trip with friends. Performance reviews start after that, and I’ll support my team. There’s an old proverb: A place for everything and everything in its place. My version is now: Over time I will be everything, but not in every moment.

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