James Franco is a Bad Influence, by J. Maureen Henderson

I have this habit where the more someone or multiple someones tell(s) me that I should like something (a person, a band, a movie, a brand of granola bar), the more I get it in my head that I’ll do just the opposite. A petty holdover from childhood that I’m trying to quit, but one that I felt kick in lately over a certain Mr. James Franco. You might have heard of him – the actor/director/artist/writer/soap star/PhD student/college instructor/have I missed anything? A friend forwarded me July’s New York Magazine profile on Franco as a testament to his well-rounded awesomeness, but all I could think of by the time I reached the end of the piece was what a poor role model this king of multi-tasking actually is.

While James Franco might have legitimate creative gifts and superhuman stamina that allows him to juggle a Hollywood career with multiple demanding grad programs, he also has the luxury of being James Franco and the benefits (an assistant who ensures that he gets from point A to B and remembers to eat, a built-in fan base for his works, an unconfirmed but highly likely easier academic ride than his anonymous classmates) that this entails. The rest of us don’t. This lack of resources doesn’t seem to temper our desire to be or have it all, though, nor does it dissuade the self-actualization for all set from peddling the pipe dream that anyone can be a location independent, passive-incoming generating, lifestyle-designed, multiple-hat-wearing, entrepreneurial whiz kid.

The truth is that most of us don’t have limitless resources to pursue multiple callings and that by choosing X, we really are closing the door on Y and maybe Z. This is the way of the world. Being an astronaut –poet-chef at a professional level ain’t gonna happen (at least not concurrently). There’s a natural tendency to resist this reality, of course. No one likes to be told that they can’t have what they think they want.  But even if you are able to balance a bill-paying gig with an engaging sideline that speaks to your passion, there are still only so many hours in the day. Not every great opportunity can be pursued, not every rabbit hole is worth plunging headlong down. And trying to do so (because you believe that you should be able to manage or that that way fulfilment lies) is a recipe for exhaustion, burnout and a frazzled, middling effort on a bunch of tasks instead of a solid performance on a few. It will catch up with you and if your juggling skills are anything like mine (there are only so many times you can hit yourself in the eye with a beanbag before the rage descends, FYI), it’ll be sooner rather than later.

But even if you do accept that you need to get off the multi-tasking merry-go-round and stop letting your head be turned by flights of fancy, how do you do that? It starts with figuring out/determining/deciding on your focus (of the astronaut-poet-chef triad, which will reign supreme?). Make a pro/con list, listen to your gut instinct (and if you don’t have one, that’s a whole ‘nother issue) or just throw a dart if that’s your thing. Once you’ve identified where you want to concentrate your energy, put the blinders on when it comes to projects that will distract from it. Sure, you’ll have to say no to some genuinely cool stuff, but you’ll be balancing that by saying yes to other opportunities that will support your focus.  It’s difficult and disappointing to have to pass on getting involved in interesting diversions, but keep in mind that these diversions are someone else’s priority area and by devoting your energy to their cause, you’re actually draining it from your own. Sometimes, it’s strategic and smart to be a little single-minded or self-absorbed.  At least until you’ve achieved James Franco status and have the means to support your dilettante inclinations to your heart’s content*.

*You still might want to skip the bodily fluid inspired art installations, though.

J. Maureen Henderson is the author of the Generation Meh personal development blog.

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