I’ve always found myself a tad envious of people who say: “I always knew what I wanted to be!” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example, was already playing and composing for piano at age three; for him, there was no question about what he was going to be when he grew up.
For many others, however, the answer isn’t so clear-cut. Many of us, throughout our lives, keep asking ourselves What do I want to do? and What am I good at? and Is what I’m doing now really what I want? And, last but not least, Can I make a living doing this? Have you ever asked yourself any of these questions? Do you still wonder about them even now?
Equally frustrating is the fact that there are numerous coaches, counselors, advisors all giving us well-meaning but too often contradictory advice: some telling us that we should choose Field A over Field B, while others tell us that Field B would be a more worthwhile endeavor. Some advice-givers extol us to follow your passion!, while others are firm in their convictions that following your passions is a waste of time and not likely to lead to anything fruitful. What to do?
Making Sense of Choosing Your Career
Perhaps, in my humble opinion, there isn’t a good answer to any of these questions. Sometimes I wonder if the problem itself is that we try to twist and contort ourselves into thinking that there’s a “one size fits all” model to finding solutions to these dilemmas.
I am reminded of the saying that “One man’s moderate workout is another man’s heart attack.” What works really well for one person may not work so effectively for someone else. We all have different strengths, different ways of learning and processing information, different trials and challenges in life.
One problem that many of us have is that we can’t fit ourselves into doing just one thing. When I was in college, I waited until a few weeks before the deadline to declare my major, and even in the aftermath of that decision, I spent a lot of time second-guessing myself. And as much as I wanted to, I never actually got around to declaring a minor – there simply were too many things I wanted to explore.
Whenever I wanted to pursue something, there was always something else I found equally appealing. As I find myself getting older, I still find myself restless, and I’m not so certain I feel comfortable doing one task or job for 40+ hours a week. Perhaps you feel the same way.
You Can Always Refuse to Choose!
Enter Barbara Sher’s book: Refuse to Choose!: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love.
Do any of these resonate with you?
- “I can never stick to anything.”
- “I keep going off on another tangent.”
- “I keep changing my mind about what to do and end up doing nothing.”
- “I work at low-paying jobs because there’s nothing I’m willing to commit to.”
- “I’ll never be an expert at anything.”
Chances are, if these statements apply to you, according to Sher, you might be a “Scanner.”
Scanners want to explore many different areas; they have a difficult time committing themselves to one and only one path. They are in contrast to people Sher labels as Divers: people who are totally absorbed by one field and can stay deeply focused on it for their entire lives.
(Editor’s Note: Having held multiple careers in my life, I strongly identify with being a Scanner. The silver lining is that my different career ventures have come together to form my current writing/blogging career. In retrospect, those previous career adventures have made my current occupation possible. The person who has sampled different occupations is often better positioned to evaluate the big picture and to share with others. The point is, being a Scanner isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If channeled properly, it can dovetail into better things. Never be discouraged!– Kevin, OutOfYourRut.com humble proprietor)
This is definitely not to say that Divers don’t have other interests besides their chosen field. It’s just that they’re content with the career path they are on and don’t feel the need to change course.
The Different Types of Scanners
Sher then divides Scanners into two main groups: Cyclical Scanners and Sequential Scanners. Sequentials move from one area of interest to another, repeatedly discarding old passions and discovering new ones.
Cyclicals, by contrast, return to the same group of interests regularly throughout their lives.
Sher further divides Cyclicals into three sub-groups and Sequentials into six. Each of the subgroups have their own working style, motivations, challenges, and obstacles, so the suggestions and possible solutions that Sher makes for one group might be very different for another.
Some Scanner sub-groups will benefit more from regular travel while others might be more comfortable telecommuting or freelancing from home. Some groups might benefit from one job or career path – an Umbrella Career, as Sher coins the term. It allows them to unite all their varying talents into one job role, while others might be better off with multiple assignments.
Each of the groups is given their own chapter in her book, along with tools, career suggestions, and numerous personal stories of those charting their own path.
Being a Scanner Comes with Built-in Conflicts
Some of the problems that Scanners have over the course of their work lives are developing clearly defined goals, falling into the trap of procrastination, and structuring their time in productive ways.
One of Sher’s suggestions that she makes for all the groups of Scanners is to keep what she calls a “Scanner Daybook”. This is a journal of one’s ideas and the tangents that pull us in different directions – something like the notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci. She also has many other exercises to help Scanners prioritize, including the “Wall Calendar” and “Reverse Flow Chart”, just to name two examples.
If you have many interests in life, feel like you’re going nowhere, and feel like the “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work for you, and you need to find a way to “get out of your rut,” (I just have to do a plug for this website!) Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose!: A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love is definitely worth a deeper look.