After Christmas ends in farewell to our older sons, it is time to sit with some unusually fine gift coffee and think through decisions facing me in 2005.
I start a list, create seven categories, enter 48 bullet points, add up some numbers _ and then go back to the top, scratch out "Decisions," and enter the word "Focus." For that will be the critical word in 2005, for me and, I think, for many. We need to focus.
I feel scattered. Perhaps you do, too. I have allowed myself to get too caught up in too many things. Not necessarily things unworthy of my attention, just too many of them. I won't be effective in anything unless I can focus on a few things. As the chief executive officer of eBay said to explain her firm's success, "The key decisions can all be characterized by focus, focus, focus."
Or as the prophet Jeremiah said to Judah, there comes a time for God to "gather them from the farthest parts of earth," to lead the "scattered" home and remind them who they are and where they belong.
What would focus look like? I don't think that the popular word "priorities" says enough. In life, we rarely sit with a blank piece of newsprint and state our preferences. We rarely get anywhere by crafting a better "mission statement." Better, I think, to take an honest assessment of reality and to see what must be done and what can be done.
Focus wages war on hubris. In our pride, we think ourselves capable of everything, the center of everything, deserving of everything. We shun the humility that would admit incapability. Focus, by contrast, cuts through that delusion, examines oneself, accepts others, ignores the common theme of advertising _ that we deserve to have it all, indeed are diminished by not having it all _ and takes time and other limited commodities seriously.
Focus, therefore, forces us outside ourselves, forces us to recognize our need for other people, forces us to share limited resources and forces us to treasure life, not just blow it away by bouncing from appetite to appetite, channel to channel, relationship to relationship, complaint to complaint.
In the wrong hands, focus can be abused, as a demagogue, for example, loads all dreams, fears and hatreds onto a single enemy, or as a clever marketer loads aspirations and neediness ontoa product. The antidote is to do the work of arriving at a better focus.
Focus can feel like an infringement on freedom and creativity. Don't do those 10 things, says focus; instead, do one or two well.
Focus requires trust. Trust in other people, to do what I cannot do; and trust in God, to love me when I cannot earn that love.
Focus requires values _ an ability to identify what truly matters and to embrace the cost of not attaining all else.
Focus honors dreams, but says that no dream will come true if you just keep adding categories and bullet points.
Every potential focus has a constituency of people or institutions who claim that their interest is paramount..
We needn't feel guilty because we don't buy into someone else's preferences. We certainly shouldn't let ourselves be bullied.
Tom Ehrich is a writer and computer consultant managing large-scale database implementations. An Episcopal priest, he lives in Durham, N.C. Visit his Web site at www.onajourney.org.