When I try to be “all things” to “all people”

A few years ago, I had the privilege of editing a memoir through my job as a freelance editor for a University Press.

After finishing my edits, I had the rare opportunity to meet with the author to talk over my edits face to face.

I had one key question for her: “Who is your audience?”

She frowned a bit, perhaps a bit annoyed by my question. “Everyone. My audience is everyone.”

I sighed inwardly. I had been afraid that she would answer this way. You see, her story was fascinating, but all over the place. As I was reading, I wondered, was the target audience Christians? Ex-Christians who had left the church? Women? Women who are picking up the pieces of a broken relationship? I didn’t know.

The one thing I did know, as a writer, reader, English scholar, teacher, and editor, was that an audience of “Everyone” rarely, if ever, works.

The book was weakened by a lack of focus; the author was trying to pack too many competing stories into 200 pages and, as a result, the focus and the purpose of the book was lost.

But when I encouraged her to pick ONE primary (and perhaps a secondary!) audience focus, I could tell that she didn’t really like my advice to “narrow her audience focus.”

And to be honest, I fight against this advice in my own life too.

I find myself trying to be all things to all people. I want to be the best wife, mom, housekeeper, cook, friend, mentor, blogger, editor, Christian, etc.

I want to be all things to all people, all the time.
My audience? Well, EVERYONE, of course!

The thing is, when I try to force my audience to be Everyone, I lose purpose and focus on what’s really important.

I have to constantly remind myself to narrow my focus and think, “Who is my primary audience right now?”
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Just a few days ago, I felt pulled in a million, fragmented directions.

It was 4:15 and Benji was sitting at the table in front of a worksheet, pencil in hand, asking me to help him with his homework.

Silas just woke up from his nap and was asking for snacks and Netflix.
I was trying to wrap up emails to secure an editing job that promised a large paycheck.
The washer beeped, letting me know that the clothes were clean. I was determined not to forget them (again).

My husband was texting me, asking what my plans were for the evening.

It was a typical late afternoon in the Meng household.

And my brain was asking in a maddeningly calm, annoying voice, “Who is your audience, Brittany?”

SHUT UP! IT IS EVERYONE! EVERYONE, I TELL YOU!

 But my past experiences have shown me that I don’t do “Everyone” or “Everything” well. I get tense, sharp, snappy, and waspish.

I needed to narrow my focus, if only for 15 minutes.

So, who was my audience? I chose quickly: Benji, it needed to be Benji.

I shut my computer, tossed the remote to my Netflix-savvy 4 year old, willed myself to not forget the laundry in the washer (again), and texted Aaron a quick “Can we talk about plans at dinner?”

Then I sat with my 9 year old and helped him with his math and reading questions.

It was a good choice to narrow my focus and here’s why: Benji is Autistic and sometimes only has a narrow window of cheerful attitude after school and I only have a narrow window of time to tackle homework with him. If we miss the window…it’s not fun.

It is also not fun or productive for him to have a mom who is distracted or irritated. He doesn’t deserve that; it helps us both to focus if I can narrow my attention to an audience of one, if only for those 10-15 minutes.

The “Who is your audience” metaphor isn’t perfect, and sometimes, it’s impossible to narrow my focus. I mean, I have FOUR KIDS whose favorite word is “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”

But I find that if I can narrow my audience focus—by closing my computer, by utilizing the ipad so I can email in peace, by declaring a focused cleaning hour, by inviting friends over after the kids go to bed, by taking one child with me while grocery shopping—I find that I am more focused and less fragmented in all the roles I play.

My personal audience is large, but I can’t be all things to all people, all the time.
To love others (and myself) well, I need to narrow my audience focus.

PS. How I’m narrowing my audience focus to my husband (instead of my computer) in the evenings.
As a Christian, isn’t God supposed to be our #1 Audience? How I live this out practically in my life.

What about you?
Who are your audiences?
How do you narrow your audience focus on a day-to-day basis?
Share your thoughts below!

Photo by Sabrena Deal