The setting was the 2004 National Speakers Association annual convention. Keynote speaker Joe Calloway exhorted attendees to rethink their businesses. "You can't be all things to all people," he exclaimed. "Pick a lane."
The concept stuck, even during the years after the event when I steadfastly veered from one lane to the next. Finally, I got it.
When you're scrambling to pay the bills, you feel you need to do whatever it takes.
Can you speak on topic X? Absolutely!
Can you put together a workshop on topic Y? Definitely!
Can you write a white paper on topic Z? Yes, bring it on!!
Sure, you might be able to competently complete each of these projects. But do you really want to? Would you put in the time and energy to excel? In short, would you love doing it? Or do you see it as a stop-gap while entertaining thoughts of doing other kinds of work?
I've found myself in situations where I felt I had to say "yes" to any and all opportunities that came my way. But the stress of doing so wore me down.
How could I possibly communicate to prospects that I could handle anything they threw at me?
I couldn't. Because I couldn't identify such "prospects," for starters.
Moreover, in doing so I'd communicate my lack of focus. Sure, perhaps I'd be willing to work for any dollar amount (within reason). But I couldn't stake a legitimate claim to any kind of expertise. Especially when compared to others who had chosen a lane.
It's a relief, actually, to pick your lane and stay in it. When work comes, I know right away whether it's right for me--or not. And more importantly, I'm excited about doing it.