Sunday, January 24, 2010

Managing multiple passions- make most of your hidden talents

Harsha Bhogle in his book-"Out of the Box - Watching the Game We Love" has a mention-
Peter Reobuck once told me of the twin loves of his life: cricket and the English language. They work well together; certainly in our game which lends itself to fine writing.

The above lines have an unique reflection about people having Multiple passions and interests. People's talents are usually not limited to being good at just one thing for life (we usually refer to as Passion) and are helped immensely by parallel interests. In case of Peter Roebuck, its Cricket and Speaking, Writing in English language.
Jack Russell came into limelight when was a part of English cricket team in 1980s and 1990s. Though not being formally trained at art, he had a special interest in art and took up as a Full time artist after his Cricket career was over. Not only this, he also is a Football goalkeeping coach.
In Michael Phelps biography (Michael Phelps The Untold Story of a Champion) by Bob Schaller, there is a mention of fellow swimmer Natalie Coughlin . He says “A graduate of Cal-Berkely, Natalie Coughlin has interests outside of the pool that means as much to her as her life in water .She goes out of her way to keep balance in her life, and while swimmers everywhere do doubles and train hours every single day, Coughlin is just as prone to balance a single daily workout with Pilates, walking her dog or Spinning.”

Pradeep Soundararajan in his blog wrote this post giving some insights into how interests different than Software Testing help the craft. Looking at the Blogosphere, there are so many distinguished testing practitioners who not only are the experts at their craft but also find time to do write frequently in blogs, magazines, speak in conferences and other relevant forums. All this really gives a view that there are two types of people in the World- One who find time to just do what they are supposed to do and the other half being the people who not only do what the profession demands but also goes a few notches beyond that and manage multiple interests. Though there may be doubts about accepting such an extreme classification of the world, but one thing is for sure that there exists people who seemingly achieve more in a day thereby giving an impression to the external world that God probably was more kind to these guys and gave them more than 24 hours in a day. It is often intriguing to me to wonder why some people manage different passions so well while some people make an attempt at the same but with little success. My mind had been working overtime to demystify this fact and following in this post i would like to share some thoughts around it. The text that follows is mostly in the form of answers to some relevant questions involving handling of multiple passions-

Am I "Only Interested" or Am I "Fully Committed" ?
Ken Blanchard in his book "The Heart of a Leader" mentions-
I learned from author and consultant Art Turock that we need to make a distinction between being interested and being committed. When you are "interested" in doing something, you only do it when its convenient, but when you are "committed", you follow through no matter what, no excuse."

I think this is a very relevant observation. I think people who manage multiple passions are not only interested and deeply in love with their areas of interests but are also hugely committed towards the same. They operate in a mode as if it’s their responsibility to contribute towards their passion every day, every hour no matter what. Many people get inspired and interested in pursuing additional interests but fail to pursue it for a longer period of time because the convenience factor creeps in with the lack of commitment. If one is committed to the cause, it’s not impossible to cross any obstacle.
If you like to do something but haven’t been able to pursue, just ask- Do i really want it badly ? Am i really only interested or committed also ?
The sooner one sorts out the answers to these questions, it lends the desired clarity to live with one's passions.

Am I able to "prioritize" effectively ?
I was having a conversation with J.D.Meier about managing multiple priorities and why individuals even while having interests in multiple activities aren’t able to contribute enough or balance properly. Here is what he had to say-
Here's what I do:
Mapping Out What's Important:
- Identify the most important results in each area or hot spot in your life (just the top 3 result for each hot spot or interest)
Producing Results:
- On Mondays, I identify 3 results for the week
- Each day, I identify 3 results I want to accomplish (this drives my day)
- On Fridays, I reflect on my results. I identify 3 things going well, and 3 things to improve.
Monthly Themes
- Each month, I pick a theme for focus. This is how I can balance across my interests. It allows me to focus less on one thing, while I focus more on another.
This is a quick start guide that helps -

I did try this suggestion and found it to be quite reasonably working. Of course, like with any other approach, this approach also requires one to be disciplined enough to follow it consistently. One thing that this suggestion helps achieve is the required focus on your interest at a given time. One of the challenges in managing multiple passions is effectively juggling between the different priorities while not losing the focus. Getting to work effectively towards three focused areas in a week helps one take baby steps towards an eventual achievement. The beauty of this approach is that it does not suggest you to take up huge tasks and then later struggle to complete them (that’s the reason i used the word "Baby step" in the previous sentence). Like with every endeavor- Patience and Perseverance is the key here too. This is because Baby steps taken in the right direction leads to Giant steps in a longer run.

The question may arise, whether an individual should talk about more than 3 priorities at a give time. Here's how J.D. Meier answered it, when i asked-
Why not finish the first 3, then bite off more?
The value of 3 is that you can remember it without writing it down. Test yourself. Today, I had 3 priorities - complete my draft vision, confirm the budget, and sync w/my partner group. Did I have lots more things to do? ... Sure, but those 3 were my best bets for the day. If I got through those 3, I could always bite off more. What I didn't want to do was have a long list of things I couldn't remember.
The rule of 3 was actually found to be the most effective number in the military for people to remember outcomes without writing things down. I didn't know this at the time. I'm just happy that the military came to the same conclusion. I lucked into it :)

Isn’t this Simplification at its best ? Clear mind does achieve more than a cluttered mind.

Am I able to "create" enough time ?
Of course, the common thought people who want to do more but aren’t able to do so is that they don’t have enough time. From my observations, the idea is to create time for self, for what you want to do.
There are infinite ways one can look at the day and build up time for something you really want to do. One of the ways, Subroto Bagchi mentions in his book- "The Professional" when he introduces the term- "White Space"-
I do not know how the term White Space originated. In telecommunication, it denotes frequency allocated to a channel but not used. Typically, broadcasters are provided additional frequency that is not meant to be populated so that the adjacent broadcast stations do not overlap. In print, the white space denotes emptiness so that we can read between the characters that form a word and a group of words that form a sentence.
In our professional lives, white space is a train or a bus ride to work, it is the time waiting outside the client's office, the time spent on long flights. We have all been given huge white spaces and we simply let their power go waste.

Look back at the day you spent, you will notice the white spaces and how you utilized them. If you wanted to read a book, could you have utilized the white space better. If you wanted to write something, could white space have been utilized in a better manner. I am not suggesting you to use all the available White spaces towards your interests, probably that’s not ideal. But what is more apt is that in order to create time for self, White space do offer the necessary time space for you.
By just having a look at how you utilize the time in the day, you would be able to figure out how to manufacture time. Believe me, it’s possible!

Am I able to "compartmentalize" life ?
"Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hands" - Thomas Carlyle

Dale Carnegie too was a huge proponent of Living in a Day tight compartments. Over a period of time, i have begun to appreciate the essence of living in Day tight compartments. Much of our mental and emotional energies drains out worrying about what will happen tomorrow or also by replaying the mistakes that we did yesterday in our minds. Living in a day-tight compartment is a metaphor that symbolizes that we shut out thoughts that carry over from yesterday or thoughts that represents tomorrow's anxieties and live life as it happens today. The idea is not to let residue thoughts of yesterday and toxic worries of tomorrow bother you today.
I have found the application of this concept suitable even while managing multiple passions. I try and live a slightly modified version of this principle- "Live in a hour tight compartments" when you are dealing with multiple interests.
It often happens that disappointment resulting in failure or a mistake in one task during the start of the day often occupies your mind throughout the day and affects everything else you do throughout the day. Living the day in a hour tight compartment helps one shut out what happened in the earlier on and helps maintain the required focus in other interests.

Am I believing in myself more than i should ?
This may sound somewhat naive. I always thought that believing in oneself is one of the foremost things everyone should do, till i read Don't believe in yourself if you want to succeed! . In its heart this article talks about how believing in self always leaves us vulnerable to unknown situations. When faced with these situations, we often tend to think about our limitations.
If at all you think you cannot manage multiple interests, it might as well be the case of excessive belief in your own self. Try not believing the part of you that says "you cannot do it". It works! Every achievement starts with a thought in mind.

Updated on 13th-March-2010
Martin Bailey --a man with multiple passions, quite beautifully balances his passion for photography with his work as a Software Management professional. For more on him, do visit-

Here is what he had to say upon reading this post-

I read your blog post with great interest. You write very well, and although I intended to scan over it, I ended up reading it fully.

I thought the part where you mentioned about being interested as opposed to committed is so very true. People often ask me how I find time to do my photography, including the weekly podcast and forum etc. while maintaining a busy full time day job. My answer is often that I don't find time, I make time. People will always make time to do something that they love and they really want to do. If you aren't able to do that, question your commitment to your passion, and not how others miraculously seem to have more time than yourself.

Prioritizing what you attack first is also very important. I've never locked into the number three, but when I have a long list of things to do, I prioritize how I spend my time. I often quote the 80:20 rule. You can say that 20% of what you do will be responsible for 80% of your success. If that's true, you can stop doing the other 80%, concentrate on doing your 20% really well, and excelling in those tasks, and your overall success will be enhanced even more. Of course, there are always going to be things in the 80% that you can't avoid doing, but you don't need to work on these as hard. I learned from an old boss, that sometimes good "enough", is good enough. You don't have to do everything to the best of your ability to succeed.

You also talk about creating time in your paragraph about White Space – I have no white space! There is no time such as on a bus or walking when I am not listening to a photography related interview, or an Audible book etc. Even when I'm sitting next to my wife after dinner, enjoying our time together before I go to my computer, if we are not talking about something, I'm running through ideas and planning my evening's activities or future plans. I do feel that I need to work harder on giving myself some white space to be honest. I am often so plugged in, that I can become over tired sometimes, to the point of making myself ill. Taking time off is important.

I like the idea of day tight or hour tight compartments. I generally learned a long time ago that I need to shut off one thought or problem to enable me to concentrate on the next. In my early twenties I would lose weekends worrying about something that happened on Friday, only to find that on Monday the problem had either disappeared, or was not such a problem after all. There are times though when I am not able to cut off feelings from previous incidents, and I'm not sure that we should. One of my bosses always praised me for being able to cut away from work easily though, and giving myself time for my photography, creating a nice balance in my life, so I'm probably doing an OK job of this.

The only thing in the article that I found a little difficult to read, or awkward was the double negative at the end. You say that we should not believe in ourselves, but then turn it into a positive, by saying that you should not believe in yourself when you think you can't achieve something. This last paragraph is funny, as I'm sure you meant it to be, but it boils down to the fact that you need to believe in yourself to give yourself the confidence to proceed, but not to be over-confident.

Personally, I have a very easy philosophy around this. I never question my ability to do something when trying to decide whether or not to take on a new task or project. The only question I ask myself is whether or not I want to do it. If I want to do something, I will make it happen, no matter how difficult the undertaking. Of course, I realize that although I'd love to be able to fly unaided or go to the moon, right now that's just not possible. You have to be realistic, although I do fully expect to go to the moon or into space at least once before I die.

Great article Anuj! Thanks very much for sharing.


TV said...


This is a great reflection on how we human being can live highly fulfilling lives. I agree with you that multiple passions is surely a trait of people who seem to accomplish little more than what mono-axis people (or, let's call them mono-rail people) seem to continuously grappple with.

Is it the creative freedom that sets them free, or just the fact that to keep time aside for pursuing a personal passion, you must inculcate discipline in your day job (and hence become more systematic and drive even better results) - I don't know. Irrespective, I definitely believe that people who have interest always manage to find the time to pursue those interests. It is like the circle of influence / circle of concern by Covey.

Thanks for a well-written and thought-proviking post. Thanks also for referring one of my posts :)


Anuj Magazine said...

Thank you TV, for your valuable insights into this post.


James Marcus Bach said...

Hi Anuj,

I don't feel that I compartmentalize my life (at least not on purpose). I don't think I make time. I don't prioritize very much. I'm fully committed to living authentically and philosophically; fully committed to protecting my wife and son to the best of my ability. I'm fully committed to being an excellent tester. But I don't feel fully committed to much other than those things.

I don't feel that life is about winning or succeeding at anything. winning, achieving, succeeding are all concepts that belong to games. Life may involve games, but life itself is not for me that sort of game.

I seek contentment, excitement, self-respect, love. If I could get these things without getting out of bed in the morning, that would be fine with me.

I have multiple passions, I suppose, but they come and go. I don't feel that I manage them. Instead, they use me.

Anuj Magazine said...

Thank you James for providing a unique perspective to this topic. Having read- "Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar: How Self-Education and the Pursuit of Passion Can Lead to a Lifetime of Success" couple of times, i now understand your perspective quite well.

Eric Hoff said...

Love it.
I too planned to scan this article and found that while I read it, I made a list to put on the wall to help me stay focused.
I have many talents that I perform well. I find that I have generally oiled the "squeaky wheel" which often leaves the more passionate talents starving.
I think that I need to begin to take charge of my time, and will utilize the concept of 3's.
Thank you.