Choosing Your Career: “Refuse to Choose!” – A Book Review

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

Choosing Your Career: “Refuse to Choose!” - A Book Review
Choosing Your Career: “Refuse to Choose!” – A Book Review
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, 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.

( Photo by J_CMac )

5 Responses to Choosing Your Career: “Refuse to Choose!” – A Book Review

  1. Wow – I never realized there was a term and ID for me. I think I’m a cyclical scanner. My life is chock-full of half started projects and hobbies that I find myself returning to 5-10 years later. I think I need to buy this book and find what it can teach me 🙂

  2. Cheers, Derek! I’m in the same boat! I also have a bunch of stuff laying around half-finished. I know I’ll get back to some of it eventually!

    I didn’t go into detail in the article about the different sub-groups:

    Cyclical Scanners: Double Agents, Sybils, Plate Spinners
    Sequential Scanners: Serial Specialists, Serial Masters,
    Jack-of-all-Trades, Wanderers, Samplers, High-Speed Indecisives.

    Purpose Muse ( has a brief summary of each type:

    “Double Agents would love to be two people and have two full lives.

    Sybils long for many, varied full lives and love revelations and insights.

    Plate Spinners enjoy doing many projects at once and solve problems easily.

    Here are summarized versions of the description and special instructions for each of the six Sequential Scanner variations

    Serial Speclialists immerse themselves deeply and for a long time in a single pursuit.

    Serial Masters similar to Serial Specialists but will tackle deep pursuits like music, martial arts, chess…

    Jack-of-All-Trades are good at many, many things and considered capable and useful to employers, family, neighbors.

    Wanderers love adventure and the new, often change jobs, find fascination in everything.

    Samplers want to experience everything and learn best by doing.

    High-Speed Indecisives grasp ideas quickly, find it difficult to conform, bite off more than they can chew.”

  3. Derek and Steve – I’m older than both of you, and definitely consider myself to be a Scanner. But with age I’ve learned to focus on the one or two most important directions I want to follow. That keeps you from getting side tracked. Maybe the increased focus comes from realizing your time horizon is shorter. When I was in my 20s it was like I was a hostage to my own changing direction. But it does settle down over time.

    Back then a friend described me as “non-committal”, but in a good way. She said that she was too, and that it would actually work for me once I accepted that that’s who and what I am. She was right. I actually like that quality about me now, particularly since my life has shown that I actually can commit if I find a venture that works for me. There’s hope, there’s always hope.

  4. Hi Derek – I had a similar revelation a few years ago when I found out that there’s a definition for what I am – mobile creatives. The more I studied the concept the more that I realized it described my life. I think a lot of Scanners are mobile creatives and don’t know it. It’s a much a lifestyle as it is a work style. Some of us are just more restless than others. Once we accept that and begin to go with it, everything falls into place. It’s not that we’re necessarily distracted, but more that we’re non-conformists who aren’t comfortable with the usual way of doing things. Once I heard the term and embraced it, my life began to make more sense.

  5. Excellent points, Kevin! I think a lot of the time, at least when we’re younger, is to think that “my whole life is ahead of me.” Then the years quickly fly by and we realize that’s not really the case. I now continually ask myself: “In what way(s) can I have a meaningful impact on others AND enjoy what I’m doing with the time I have left?”

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