Since creating The Balanced Guy blog, I’ve continually had to examine my own efforts at being “balanced.” One insight is that managing time and energy is a lot like managing a stock portfolio: If you broadly diversify, you eliminate a lot of the ups and downs, however, you end up with the S&P 500 or Wilshire 5000 return—relatively safe but unspectacular. The same is true of time: Get involved in too much and the result is a lot of nothing completed at a superficial level with average results. It’s not that it’s impossible to achieve it all, to be a Renaissance Man, but there’s a reason why history has a limited number of da Vincis, Newtons, and Franklins. And while I like to fantasize that I’d be able to cleverly banter with these guys, seamlessly shifting with the conversation from science to art to philosophy to politics, I have a feeling I would come up short. I’ve come to realize that, like most people, I am interested in all the world has to offer but I have to focus on fewer areas of interest and not become sidetracked by the distraction of, say, botany (like Leonardo). You are probably thinking, “Duh. What took you so long to figure this out?” To which I would respond, unless you have the ADD-motivated approach to life like I do, it’s not a foregone conclusion.
It’s no great secret that to be really good at something takes a significant investment of time and energy (“investment” being the operative word). I’m not saying that you have to adhere to the ungodly 10,000-hour rule as put forth by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, but focusing your efforts on fewer things in life very simply will get you better overall results. Consider it the value investing approach to life: Warren Buffett is quite the financial guru and his investing style is one worth emulating (not to mention he does a killer Axel Rose impression), however, some people might say that Warren doesn’t diversify enough which can be risky. I would respond by saying, first, Buffett didn’t get to be one of the richest men on the planet by being a lousy money manager. Second, which is riskier: owning so many different stocks that you can’t keep up with every company let alone understand each stock in sufficient depth, or owning stock in a few companies that you understand very well and have the time to keep up with? And my last point: Life is risky so get over it. If you choose the index fund approach, it requires very little effort, but don’t expect anything more than average returns. If you take the value investing approach, you’ll put in sold effort and see solid, above-average (but not necessarily spectacular) returns over a long period of time. If you don’t want to put forth the effort, then be prepared for a life of average. (Of course, these approaches are both different than speculation, which essentially is a real roll of the dice: some spectacular results if you get lucky, some devastating losses if you don’t.)
Now, to get back to my original point: Life is a lot like investing. Sometimes there are moments akin to speculative stock trading: a trip to Vegas; being the 100,000th customer to walk through the door; a winning lottery ticket. But these aren’t methods you can depend on to pay the bills, let alone build your life around. However, if you keep playing tennis every week or create yet another painting, you’ll soon develop real skill and actually get better. In my life, I’m trying to achieve more of a value investing approach by identifying a few things to learn about and become somewhat of an “expert” in. This doesn’t mean that I’ve ceased being interested in the world around me; I’m simply making more of an effort to be focused in my free time. You never know where it might lead; I’m fairly certain that I’ll never be asked to write an advice column or to be a guest speaker at a conference by knowing a little about a lot (unless I make it onto Jeopardy!). The hard part, as with most things, is putting in the effort on the front end when it feels like your chances of improving are zilch. Yes, it’s frustrating and we are all guilty of giving up out of a fear of failure. However, as confidence builds, eventually we all come to realize that we’re actually pretty good at what we’ve been doing all along.
So, if you’ve already succeeded at managing the information overload—trying to be everywhere, do everything, and please everyone at once and all of the time—I applaud you. I’ll be the first to admit it’s a difficult balancing act, hence why it is such a challenge to be a real “Balanced Guy.”
The writer of The Balanced Guy, Roman Horoszewski, is not particularly balanced but he’s trying to be. He makes an effort by not only doing “guy stuff,” but also by spending time with his three sons and wife while attempting to remain informed about the world around him. He and his family live in the Princeton, N.J. area. His blog is @ http://thebalancedguy.blogspot.com/.