Recently, I saw one of my favorite new artists live. Before the show, I busied myself with reading reviews of her latest cd – a pretty radical departure from her debut – to see if my opinion that she’s taken a turn for the Stevie Nicks (a very good thing in my books) was shared by music critics. In the course of clicking around, I stumbled on this snippet (bolding mine) from The Boston Globe:
“The sweet sass of ‘Bible Belt’ has given way to more scorching moments. Birch is not the one to be messed with on “All the Love You Got,” which presumably dresses down a former lover. Birch could have included songs like that on her debut, but she realized that for the sake of consistency, she needed to commit to a cohesive sound and collection of songs. There would be time to make other records. There would be life after ‘Bible Belt’.”
I’ve been struggling with a big new project and there was exactly the perspective I needed in a few lines of a cd review. I had been thinking about this particular opportunity as my one and only shot. If I didn’t cram anything and everything I ever wanted to say into it, I might never get to another chance to share my thinking with the world. Consider it in food terms. Instead of focusing on making the best possible apple pie I was capable of and whetting diners’ appetites for future dishes, I was fretting over trying to pull off a six-course meal because I was worried no one would ever agree to try my food again. I was stressing myself out over self-imposed scarcity.
A friend is working on his PhD dissertation and battling with the same urge to accurately and critically represent all corners of a vast subject area for fear of missing something or not doing the field justice. Instead of a tightly-focused argument, he’s been driving himself crazy thinking about his dissertation as a state of the subject treatise. No wonder trying to wrap up his doctorate is giving him gray hairs.
The truth is no one project – a paper, an album, a resume, a work of art, a dessert – can capture everything you want to say or that you’re capable of thinking, creating or sharing with the world. You can, however, make that entry point to your expertise compelling enough that people will be primed to come back for more. You don’t have to show your audience everything you have inside all at once for fear you’ll never get another kick at the can. Instead, you simply have to deliver something valuable, interesting, enlightening and strong enough that that same audience is excited to experience your next offering in whatever form it may take.
Come for the apple pie. Come back next time for the gnocchi. And the Stevie Nicks homage.