Self-help guru Barbara Sher encourages people to be proud of being a dabbler, what she calls a scanner: a person with the uncontrollable urge to dabble at many things rather than focus on becoming expert at anything.
From my 25 years as a career counselor as well as from talking with countless people about their career, there are few things I'm surer of than that being a scanner/dabbler will likely hurt your career, your self-esteem, and ability to make a contribution.
Of course, being a scanner rather than a specialist may help your career if you're exceptionally intelligent and work long hours and thus can master many things, or if you're in one of the few careers in which dabbling is tolerated--for example, journalism--if you can beat the long odds of actually making a living at journalism.
But for the vast majority of people, including advanced degree holders, the common denominator of success is relentless focus. Most people who are highly successful or make a significant contribution, pursue their career (and usually their avocations) with relentless focus until they've truly become a master. That, in fact, was the upshot of Malcolm Gladwell's 2008 book, Outliers, which contends that top achievers combine both high ability and a decade or more of relentless focus.
So I wasn't surprised when I received this email from a reader of this blog.
I'm sure you are deluged with email all the time but I thought I'd give this a shot. I've been out of work for 1 1/2 years and have lost all of my confidence and focus. I tend to be a scanner (I love everything) and can't seem to decide on what to do. I'm now a receptionist for $12 an hour and have lost my home and car. I've never thought I'd be unemployable but I fear I might be at this point. I can't seem to get a grip on what to do. I'm out of cash, living with friends and basically, a wreck. I'm sinking fast.
(name deleted to preserve anonymity)
Here's how I responded to her: Most scanners' career suffers immensely from their dabbling. Focus, relentless focus, becoming expert at something you care about is key--something you care about that has a reasonable chance of being remunerative.
I believe that the previous sentence may be the most helpful career advice I can give to anyone.