Successful people don’t dabble.

don't dabble, be an expertGenerally, I’m not a big fan of dissecting what “successful people” do.

The promise implicit in “doing what they do” is that you’ll become successful too.

I think the road to success, however you choose to define it, is more complicated than that. A path taken by one person may not be the right path for you.

So let me qualify my headline by saying, “When I find myself dabbling, it’s a sure sign I’ve wandered off my own path to success.”

In other words, this is what’s true for me. It may or may not be true for you. (But I suspect it might be.)

I have found my own success through writing for the web, and teaching others what I know.

That’s it. That’s what I do. Nothing too complicated.

To become more successful, I simply need to focus on those two things and do them better. I just have to become a better online writer, and a better teacher.

But I often find myself distracted. I find myself dabbling in other stuff.

Occasionally I have to go on an “unsubscribe” binge, because I find I have signed up for a bunch of newsletters and service subscriptions that really have nothing to do with the core competencies that make me successful.

I defend my behavior by telling myself that a broad and varied knowledge base is a good thing. But I’m pretty sure I’m just kidding myself.

I think the truth is that I use “dabbling” as an excuse to put off what I should be doing. Dabbling becomes a crutch.

Maybe you do this too. Or something like it.

Maybe instead of getting real clarity about what drives your own success, you dabble too much.

Maybe dabbling becomes and excuse and a crutch for you too.

“Before I get down to doing what I really should be doing, I need to learn this one new thing. Take this one extra course. Sign up for one more newsletter. Buy one more book. Learn how to use one more piece of software.”

Sound familiar?

Now let’s go back to my headline: Successful people don’t dabble.

Like I said, I can’t speak for other people.

But I don’t think I’m far off in thinking that one of the markers of success is to focus on what you do well, and what works for you.

Become an expert at one or two things. Not an amateur at many things.

Don’t waste so much time on stuff that doesn’t matter. Focus on what does.

If you want to be successful, don’t dabble.


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11 thoughts on “Successful people don’t dabble.”

  1. I agree, Nick! I also equate this approach to “watch your non-billable hours”…one of the great things I learned from your Marketing Confidence course. There’s a “time” for dabbling but the majority of my focus each day has to be on billable time. It’s made a huge difference in my level of productivity. In fact, a great benefit of being focused and productive – and doing what I love/what I do best – is actually being able to take time off. As far as focusing on being good at one or two things, I think you’ll agree, it’s a process. There’s always something to learn.

    • Kathy, I love your point about taking time off. I do the same. By remaining more focused, and avoiding time wasted dabbling, I also reward myself with time away from work. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Hi Nick,
    I’m not sure what you mean by “dabbling.” If you mean, spending time on things you are not good at and will never be good at, I disagree. Having wide interests that have nothing to do with your business helps keep you fresh, and once in a while it turns out to be a business boon, also – because making kites or studying Polish bank history or reading anime gives you a great new business idea.
    Also, if you only spend time doing the things you’re best at, and that you get paid the most for, you can’t find the next career move.
    Very often one’s “dabbling” turns out to be the leading edge of your next bold business move – something that becomes clear only in retrospect.
    So unless I’ve totally misunderstood you, I am a big fan of dabbling!
    Marcia Yudkin

    • Marcia… great comment.

      OK, let me clarify.

      Dabbling Version One is as you describe. It’s the product of a curious mind. You explore new stuff and nurture and enrich your mind and your life in the process. And occasionally, as you say, a bold new business direction will evolve from your dabbling habit.

      Dabbling Version Two – which I focus on in this post – is when dabbling is simply a distraction and an excuse to avoid focusing on your core skills and core business.

      Sometimes dabbling is a delaying tactic: “Before I dive into the scary depths of actually growing my business, I’d better learn some more stuff”.

      Sometimes it’s a “grass is greener’ thing: “Before I commit to the path I’m on, maybe I should check out what this latest guru is recommending”.

      Dabbling Version Three – which I am guilty of sometimes – is to think you’re a Version One Dabbler, and feel proud about it, when in fact you’re a Version Two Dabbler and are simply kidding yourself. : )

      Thanks for making the point that not all dabbling is bad!


  3. I have definitely been guilty of Dabbling Version 2 and 3. The thing that’s helping me move away from this behavior, I think, is getting solid on some basic copywriting and Web writing skills, which has lead to my belief in myself as someone who can be successful in my niche. That confidence, I find, lessens the need to wander, or dabble, away from the task at hand, out of fear that I can’t really do it.

    I use Dabbling Version One as a reward, the way some people use chocolate or a vacation. Like today, I’m visiting my son in beautiful (but hot!) Savannah, Georgia. Before I wander out to the fabulous used bookstore up the road, I have committed to three hours of work on one focused project. Having that “carrot” helps!

    • Rewarding yourself along the way is a great idea. I was really bad at that – for decades! – but I’m getting better at it. : ) I’m taking the day off tomorrow – midweek, gasp – to visit with family.

  4. I think I agree with Marcia and often do Dabbling Version One. I have many interests and love to learn new things. However, this openness to trying out new things and new ideas that I have never experienced before has led me down different paths as I grow older. I don’t think I would have enrolled in any of AWAI’s programs, for example, if I didn’t do Dabbling Version One.

  5. I think what Nick is saying is: If you discover that you are great at filming promo videos for local artists, for example… and you decide that you’re going to make a business out of it (website, better tools, social media), don’t get carried away “side-dabbling” on other things that distract you from what ‘s already working, and what you can accomplish that people can benefit from, now… like, trying to take courses on how to use Pro Tools first, so you can record fancy soundtracks for the videos you’ll eventually start filming. No, double down on what’s working already.

    Is that what you mean, Nick?

    • That’s pretty much it. But the worst dabbling is when you find your niche in producing those promo videos, and then get distracted by barely related shiny objects….like, “Wow, it might be fun to learn about podcasting!” (I’m scratching my own itch here. I have to force myself to stay focused on what I do best and enjoy the most. : )

  6. I’m exactly who you’re talking about. One more course, one more book, the next new thing, and then I’ll be ready. I could make an e-book from all the notes I’ve taken!!! Seriously though, I want to make big money without spending money and that’s where I’m wrong I’m sure. I need to focus and stop getting distracted by all those time killers out there!

  7. Hi Nick, maybe you have a point that “Successful people don’t dabble”. But it depends on the situation. Sometimes dabbling can help man figure out that he’s capable to the other things. So, what if a persons he don’t know what he’s capable of, then he focus on one thing. Then, he lost chance to figure out something that he’s capable of. Maybe that’s my idea Nick, but thanks anyway, you give me some idea about dabbling.


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