You probably know by now that I have more interests, hobbies, and side hustles than I can keep track of. There is writing, podcasting, movie reviewing, designing, coffee brewing, et cetera. The honest truth is that I love all of the above activities, and I don’t want to give up any of these pursuits.
However, the first rule of building your online “brand” is find one thing, do it extremely well, and say no to everything else you might want to do. The reason we hear this piece of advice online so much is because everyone gets overwhelmed by the possibilities, then lazily will throw in the towel — quit before that really succeed at any one endeavor.
The other reason we are told ‘just do one thing only’ is because it’s more marketable. If you want the clickthroughs, the follows, and the general sense of web-based notoriety, then they say you should focus on one subject so that you become a go-to source for content, services, and products based on that topic.
The search engines like this compartmentalization. It would be really convenient for Google if you would be one thing only. This is the reason that many businesses, and consequentially many multifaceted and smart people, over-simplify their contribution to culture.
I don’t care for this rule. It’s applicable for some of the people for some of the time, but it cannot be right for all of us all of the time. It cuts creative people off at the knees. No one wants to be responsible for one pursuit and one subject only from now till the last day they sign in to the Internet. I want variety. I love reading fiction and non-fiction. I’m also a father, a Christian, an American, a geek, a coffee enthusiast, a screencaster, a podcaster… And I don’t want to be bound to any one theme for too long. When I’m passionate, I’m not always going to be passionate for the same thing for an indefinite period of time. My best work comes out of me when a subject is at the forefront of my focus, and while that’s rotating through different topics (and pursuits) I want to deliver on my focus at a given moment.
Is it possible then to be a success at more than one thing online? Of course it is! I think you can develop multiple interests and make several lasting connections online that profit you in wholesome human interaction and financial support. If you want 300 faves on Twitter, because that’s what gives you a boost, you can do that while you chat with people about sports, technology, home brews, politics, and more. You don’t have to become the simplest, most cartoon representation of yourself to be memorable or appreciated. Real people have more than one interest, so the more complete the picture of your interests, the more people know you and benefit from you.
Take Jason Snell, for example. He’s one of my favorite writers. He’s known for his professional writings about Apple corporate, Apple products, the technology industry, comics, movies, podcasts… Do podcasts, movies, and Apple business have much in common? Not really. Many geeks are entertained by all of the above, but typically these interests don’t have anything to do with each other in the details.
Another example: John Gruber writes about Apple corporate, Apple’s competitors, and Apple’s products. Oh, and he also talks a great deal about cult classic movies and baseball.
Jim Dalrymple is a technology writer and an indie music artist.
Merlin Mann is a business consultant of some sort, and an all-around nice guy on the Internet that likes to share in hilarious conversation that everyone can enjoy. He’s incredibly gifted in both his professional work and his “off the clock” social interaction. He’ll discuss tech, productivity, parenting, comics — you name it. What a waste it would be if he only talked about any one of these subjects, so he could amplify a focused persona.…
If you find more than one field of interest, go for it. Be passionate, deliberate, and thorough. The key to a happy life is to do what matter and what matters to you. If you want to be an indie artist on Deviant Art and write for a travel site, do it. Give it thought; make an action plan if necessary, but develop multiple pursuits.
I like the idea that as we mature as individuals in this cross pollination of all the fields we enjoy that we will stumble across truly innovative ideas. When we gain experience in public speaking, what we learn from the experience will be applicable in one way or another to our photography. When we take responsibility for our health — cooking more at home and exercising regularly — whilst we also start a family and learn some parenting skills, we become more complete people. The same is applicable to our online life.
Don’t let the people that are overly eager to simplify at the expense of your dreams get in the way of what you have to contribute. Just focus on quality ahead of the quantity in your pursuits, and everything should be good. I give you permission to be a historian and a code developer, if that’s what you really want to be.