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On Doing Everything But Nothing Well

Trying to do it all means risking it all.

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I remember watching some documentary where Mike Milbury was interviewed.

Mike Milbury was an ice hockey player who is variously known for jumping over the glass into the stands, ripping the shoe off a fan, and then beating him with it, completely ruining the NY Islanders, or, more recently, being that smug little prick on NBC Sports. His legacy is ultimately irrelevant to my story, but you can’t say the guy’s name without mentioning this.

My point here is that in that documentary he said something that I will never forget about his time as coach and general manager of the Islanders. It was something to the effect of:

“I was trying to do too much. I tried to do both jobs and I didn’t do a very good job at either of them.”

When I watched this I was at a different point in my career but I always kept these words tucked away as a warning:

Don’t try to do everything because you won’t be able to do anything well enough.

However, this was a warning that I have not heeded.

Over the past year I’ve taken on too much; I’ve said yes to too many opportunities, and I’ve found myself not doing a very good job at any of them — or at least not as good as I otherwise could be doing.

Right now, I’m trying to publish multiple articles per week on Forbes, writing features for the Guardian, various other articles for other publications, blogging daily, publishing two or three videos per week to our YouTube channel, taking on high-paying corporate writing jobs, doing speaking engagements, running webinars, making documentaries, all while trying to finish up my book on the New Silk Road.

It’s just too much, there is not enough time in the day to go around, and everything is starting to show signs of crumbling.

However, on a case by case basis it’s virtually impossible to say no to any of these engagements. They are such good opportunities in their own rights that it has been incredibly difficult for me to turn them down. How do you turn your nose up at a Phd program at a global top-25 university? How do you not take offers to write for some of the top publications on the planet (which also generates a steady stream of income)? How do you stop telling the daily narrative that you know that you are going to look back on someday and really appreciate? But when everything is combined together it’s like tossing crabs in a bucket: they all struggle to get to the top and eventually start eating each other .. biting away at the time that all of the others equally require.

I’m fucking up. I missed my quota at Forbes last month, I missed the deadline to send in my application for the Phd program, this blog is being published in starts and stops, the book over a year late, I’m going over the submission dates for a stream of articles, and I’m not even able to properly concentrate on filmmaking — which is the direction I’d like to go in from here.

When you take on too much you start risking everything. When you start finishing work late it sends a chain reaction through the entire operation. My book took longer than expected to finish, a project in January with CNBC unexpectedly lasted all the way through February … and some other projects that I estimated would be wrapped up by now are still lingering … piling up on top of each other, and I’m left in this situation where I’m trying to do everything at once and risking not doing anything well enough.

Milbury is now a laughingstock.

This post marks a transition.

To be continued …


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Filed under: Travel Diary, Travel Philosophy, Work

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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