The Problem Of Being Too Focussed

I’ve always had a vague sense of direction in my life. This has kept me moving forward and helped me to grow. But, while living on a remote and wild island, I realised the danger of being too focussed.

The St Kilda Archipelago sits beyond the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. With the highest sea cliffs in the UK, it’s a large wedge in the Atlantic Ocean.

I lived on the main island, Hirta, for three months and worked as a research assistant for some UK universities.

One of my jobs was to collect faecal samples from the feral sheep living on the main island. This was a great source of competition among the team of researchers. We tried to out-compete each other in gathering as many samples as possible.

But after two months of work, there were still a handful of sheep that we couldn’t find. Consequently, we had no faecal samples from them.

The Soay Sheep of St Kilda

While exploring a dangerously steep part of the island I spotted a rarely seen male. I crept closer and watched him for an hour. My patience paid off. He pooped.

I charged forward, fixated where the poo had fallen. I couldn’t mistake this for another individual’s. That would screw up these data.

I slipped on the damp grass and started sliding down the steep slope.

focussed on the sheep on slopes of st kilda
Steep slopes wash into the sea. Dùn in the background. Soay sheep in the foreground.

I scrambled, grabbing whatever grass and rocks. Anything I could get a hold off to stop me.

But nothing was slowing me down. I was getting close to the cliff edge. I could hear the crashing of the waves below.

I thought, “I am going to die”. And for what, a bit of sheep poo.

But, I slammed to a stop against a boulder not far from the cliff edge.

I was bleeding badly from a gash on my lower back and my ankle was twisted, but I was alive. I was lucky.

My single-minded focus on getting the poo sample had almost killed me.

We’re told in the pages of self-help and business success books to focus our dreams by writing them down to create goals.

But if we create goals and relentlessly chase after them, we can miss other opportunities. You might not slide down a hillside and almost fall of a cliff in pursuit of your goal but when you’re focussed on a particular future, you can be blind to fantastic opportunities all around you.

If I had focussed on moving into academia I might have missed the great opportunity to start working as a virtual assistant for my friend. This opportunity put me on the path to being able to work from almost anywhere in the world, helping clients in different industries and with all sorts of tasks. I love the freedom. And I love the diversity of the work.

There are so many opportunities around you. Every day opens up new possibilities – but only if you notice them. There could be surprising things in front of you that you just haven’t noticed yet.

Be open. Be ready.

Thanks to Brian, our project leader for inviting me to work on this project with him and his team and for sharing his incredible photos of our time on St Kilda.