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Forget Focus, Wander

How to live a full and meaningful life and perform better in your job

When asked about the one thing he felt contributed most to his success, Warren Buffett, investment titan and third richest man in the world, answered, “focus.” Buffett biographer, Alice Schroeder captured these sage words about mastering a craft in The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life: “[Buffett] ruled out paying attention to almost anything but business—art, literature, science, travel, architecture—so that he could focus on his passion.” I offer a counterpoint, when all others focus, wander. Get lost in things that bring you joy outside of your occupation. In today’s ever-changing economy, the most resilient employees are those with transferable skills who can adapt –and thrive- in rapidly evolving conditions. The cost of eschewing personal development to focus purely on professional growth is that you may miss finding a passion that will not only complement your work, but also give you purpose outside of your paycheck.

For the past five years, I have been freelancing for a number of different nonprofits in the health and education arena while I completed my master’s degree. While my studies took me in one direction, my personal interests began to diverge and take another. By volunteering for causes that were important to me, and pursuing personal interests like writing, graphic design and real estate, I discovered a fulfilling career path, albeit not the traditional course most would have expected.

The point is: craft a well- rounded you. Don’t put off things that you’ve always wanted to try, like taking a welding class, developing a yoga practice or traveling because they seem frivolous. I offer a new barometer for prioritizing free time: does it make you happy? Then pursue it. Happy employees are more productive at work and more likely to report a higher quality of life than their unhappy coworkers. Creative hobbies have also been linked to greater job performance. (My best ideas come to me in the shower or when I’m mowing the lawn.) Perhaps you’re not one of the ‘creatives’ in the office, but you discover that you love web development through the course of creating your own blog; embrace it! Having ancillary skills is never a bad thing and may help you pivot into a new career, if you ever want or need to make the leap outside of what you’re currently doing.

Millenials understand this better than most. Millenials are more likely to embrace new technology and start a business earlier than baby boomers. People who lead a robust life outside of their profession are also less likely to be defined by their job title or career accolades, adopting instead a more holistic- and healthy- view of themselves as multi-dimensional people.

Do an internal audit of your hobbies and interests, subscribe to different podcasts and newsfeeds dedicated to those things. Expand your social sphere by joining virtual or in-person meetup groups for niche interests like Python programming or natural light photography. Seek inspiration for your work in unlikely places. By focusing solely on your narrowly defined area of expertise, you may ignore deep wells of inspiration waiting to be tapped from other industries. Now, go forth and wander.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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