Going Deeper, Not Wider

Going down a stairway at Marshall's Beach in San Francisco
Going down a stairway at Marshall’s Beach in San Francisco, CA. Photo credit: Jessica Araus

I wrote this blog post because I was inspired by this wonderful read a while ago. The article did more than just inspire me, though; it had a positive impact on my life and made its way into the title of this post. At its core, “going deeper, not wider” is finding value in what you already own or what you’ve already started, before starting anything new. This concept is simple, but that doesn’t mean is easy to execute. Let me share a excerpt from the article:

“You improve skills rather than learning new ones. You consume media you’ve already stockpiled instead of acquiring more. You read your unread books, or even reread your favorites. You pick up the guitar again and get better at it, instead of taking up the harmonica. You finish the Gordon Ramsey Masterclass you started in April, despite your fascination with the new Annie Leibovitz one, even though it’s on sale.”

At its core, going deeper, not wider is finding value in what you already own or what you’ve already started, before starting anything new. Click To Tweet

At a time where more is considered better, it’s easy to fall into the trap of accumulating stuff just for the sake of it. Or overstretching our schedules because that’s what productivity is supposed to look like.

When I first got into self-development, I read dozens of books and binge-watched inspiring videos on YouTube. I felt I needed to “catch up” with the world. But soaking up all that information wasn’t enough. Until you take action, you’re standing still.

After a while, I started to read slower, savoring each line. I don’t know about you, but I’m a highlighter. I like marking those nuggets of wisdom found in a book—especially if I’m reading a self-help book. Now, before jumping to the next book, I take time to go over each of those highlights one by one. I write them in my journal, and I reflect on them. Most importantly, I act on them. This is what going deeper means for me.

I have always been surprised by how fast my friends read books. Every week, I get a notification from my Goodreads account saying, “Jackie finished reading (insert book title here).” I see friends reading multiple marketing books at the same time. I wonder if they’re able to apply all those tips and strategies in their businesses or if they’re just overflooding their brains with information. I, for one, am moving away from this need to consume every bit of information out there and buying books only to stack them on the shelves where they accumulate dust.

Similarly, in his book and online class 6 Months to 6 Figures, Peter Voogd talks about the Mastery vs Overload principle. He says one of the biggest problems in the economy right now is too much information and a lack of implementation. Put simply, people take on too much.

He encourages entrepreneurs to start small and learn one or two skills more relevant to their end goal. Then, reflect on what they’re learning, and not move to the next module until they have seen results. One way to make sure you’re not “wasting information” is to ask yourself, “Have I taken action on the previous information I’ve learned?” Voogd shares.

With this principle in mind, you avoid listening to 50 podcasts. You pick one, listen to it again and again, take notes on it, and execute it.

There are many other life areas where we can apply the concept of going deeper, not wider. Friendships, for example. I’m one of those people who likes to hang out with a selected group of friends. I mostly have close friends on my personal Facebook account, and by “close” I don’t mean we go for coffee every week. A close friend can be someone who shared an experience or has similar values.

A while ago, I discovered an ex-student of mine lost his life to cancer. I only knew this because a loved one announced his death on Facebook. If I had known he was sick, I would have visited him in the hospital, or at least sent him some flowers. At first, I thought he had kept his illness a secret, but then I went to his Facebook profile and realized he had been sharing updates of his illness. There were photos of him at the hospital from the last six months. I concluded that I wasn’t seeing updates from the people I cared about. Instead, my Facebook feed was flooded with the images of people I had barely met on their vacations.

I know there are other ways to catch up with friends. We can simply call or write them an email. But still, whenever I have ten minutes to spare on Facebook, I’d rather see updates from 200 real friends, than from 1000 people I don’t know. I want to know when loved ones need support, and I want to be there to support them. That doesn’t mean I don’t accept new friendship requests, but I like to be mindful of who I accept on my Facebook and I do a cleaning now and then.

Whenever I have ten minutes to spare on Facebook, I'd rather see updates from 200 real friends, than from 1000 people I don't know. Click To Tweet

In my case, I’m all about vibes. We can have the same interests, but if our vibes don’t match, honey, we better part ways. I end friendships that don’t serve me and nurture the ones that lift me up. By going deeper instead of wider, you learn not to be so shallow with your relationships and you end up with a rich and carefully curated group of interesting people.

Another aspect of my life where I apply this principle is projects. In the past, I accepted any project because I was beginning my career as a freelance illustrator, and I wanted to gain visibility and expertise. But recently, I started to turn down illustration projects that aren’t up my alley. Instead, I want to go deeper on projects that make me jump out of bed every morning. These days, I have a criteria when I take on projects. I only accept projects that:

  • contribute to my freedom
  • are well paid
  • are fun and exciting
  • have reasonable deadlines
  • fall in the lines of my core values
  • support my vision or goals

I am also aware that being a multi-passionate creative makes going deeper difficult. And I know I will eventually need to make a trade-off and give up one or two of my passions to focus on those that bring me the most joy/satisfaction.

In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown talks about the principle of “less but better”. According to McKeown, essentialism is about concentrating all our energy on accomplishing the vital few things that really matter. To do this, we must cut out the things that are not essential.

He provides insights on how to apply selective criteria to opportunities that come your way. Before taking on anything new, he recommends writing down the opportunity and making a list of minimum and extreme criteria. These criteria would need to “pass” for the opportunity/project to be considered (see chart below).

minimum extreme criteria chart by Greg McKeown
Excerpt from the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown

“By definition, if the opportunity doesn’t pass the first set of criteria, the answer is obviously no. But if it also doesn’t pass two of your three extreme criteria, the answer is still no,” explains McKeown.

For some, this approach might seem a bit strict, but the truth is when you don’t have a criteria, you leave your business and lifestyle to chance.

The Takeaway

The principles I mentioned above aren’t meant to get you stuck or lost in one project/book. Going deeper means drilling down for enrichment, instead of fanning out. For some people, this happens automatically. They naturally absorb value, but others are susceptible to the noise out there.

I feel happy when there is balance. I like focusing on one thing at a time, but I also like adding variety to my plate, and from time to time, indulging in the little high I get when I start something new. What about you? Do you go wider or deeper?




**This post contains affiliate links. That means that if you make a purchase through one of my links, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Author: Jessica Araus

Jessica Araus is a mixed media artist and illustrator living in the Netherlands.

10 Replies to “Going Deeper, Not Wider

  1. Very timely and meaningful advice. I like the long, assured arrow pointing upwards in Essentialism, versus the little short ones pointing in all directions, but never quite making it high enough- too many ideas not implemented, versus one really good idea that takes off. It is an analogy applicable in all aspects of life. Thank you for the reminder.

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