Refuse to Choose… Have you’ve ever said to yourself things like “I can never stick to anything”, “I know I should focus on one thing, but which one?” or “I’ll never be an expert in anything”?

You feel like everyone has a clear picture of their calling but yourself?

Chances are that you’re a Scanner!

Identifying yourself as a Scanner means changing the way you see yourself in the world. If you’ve been a little lost in the business of handling your many talents, this book is for you.

This will not only make you reflect on your true identity, but also to give you tools, tips, techniques, and life design models for you to step over obstacles that have stopped you in the past. With your arms full of new tools, you’ll be free to do what you were born to do and build the productive future you were designed for.

Refuse To Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams

Barbara´s story at UC Berkeley

On the first day of class, the author felt so emotional as reading the catalog of classes. Her friends would not understand the tears flowing down her cheeks incessantly because she was so moved to have so many things to learn and classes to choose from.

After much deliberation, each of her friends wrote in 5 or 6 classes. But she signed up for 10. Then, she flunked 5 of them and barely passed the others. This way, she found College was a lot harder than high school and did not understand why they kept having exams at all. In her mind, it was quite enough to simply discover that there were so many astonishing things to learn about.

Finally, she picked a major. She picked math because it looked like the most amazingly gorgeous thing a person could possibly learn on this earth. However, she found it so hard that she gave it up and majored in anthropology.

Although getting a diploma, she did not get a job with her education. She never did anything practical with the other things she loved either. She just loved learning and wanted to keep on doing it. Even her family thought she was crazy but seemed to be proud of her anyway.

At a certain point, she still had her books and snuck into classes whenever possible. At the same time, she was a single mom with kids to support, thus in need of a career to make a living. Graduate school was out of the question because of time and money, so she ended up having an opportunity to work in programs sponsored by the city to help deal with poor people, drug addicts, and ex-convicts.

The Scanner’s Revelation

The career revelation came to Barbara when she started reading about famous people in history, like Aristotle, Goethe, da Vinci and Ben Franklin—people whose interests were also all over the map—to see if she could find a clue to help her out.

As she looked through the books of their journals and letters, she noticed something odd: None of these people seemed to have the slightest problem with not sticking with one field!

They flitted from one subject to another with complete freedom, and they never appeared to feel guilty if they left a project unfinished. None of them ever settled on one career, for that matter, and they never seemed defensive or apologetic about it.

How did they do that?

Who gave them permission to go sticking their noses into whatever interested them?

The only answer the author found was that in their time, nobody seemed to think there was anything wrong with doing everything under the sun.

So, Barbara set about giving this kind of people a name: Scanners. This is because instead of diving down into the depths of an interest, they scanned the horizon for many interests.

What are Scanners?

Intense curiosity about numerous unrelated subjects is one of the most basic characteristics of a Scanner. They are endlessly inquisitive. That is exactly the reason why they don’t want to specialize in any of the things they love because that means giving up all the rest. Some even think that being an expert would be limiting and boring.

Pay attention to the following sayings:

  • “I can never stick to anything“
  • “I know I should focus on one thing, but which one?”
  • “I lose interest in things I thought would interest me forever”
  • “I keep going off on another tangent”
  • “I get bored as soon as I know how to do something”
  • “I can’t stand to do anything twice”
  • “I keep changing my mind about what I want to do and end up doing nothing”
  • “I work at low-paying jobs because there’s nothing I’m willing to commit to”
  • “I won’t choose a career path because it might be the wrong one”
  • “I think everyone’s put on this earth to do something; everyone but me”
  • “I can’t pay attention unless I’m doing many things at once”
  • “I pull away from what I’m doing because I’m afraid I’ll miss something better”
  • “I’m too busy, but when I do find time I can’t remember what I wanted to do”
  • “I’ll never be an expert in anything. I feel like I’m always in a survey class”

If you’ve ever said at least one those to yourself, the chances are you’re a Scanner.

Identifying yourself so means changing the way you see yourself in the world. It starts with the basic understanding that you should stop trying to fit into the accepted norm at once and begin learning about who you really are. To help you build the productive future you were designed for, you need a set of instructions.

Unfortunately or not, there is no academic path to train you in the best use of your irrepressible curiosity or to direct your fast mind into a multidirectional specialty. Likewise, there are no career tracks or job titles for the multitalented. Our culture’s pressure to train specialists simply isn’t balanced.

Scanner’s Reward

Generally, career counselors urge their clients to choose a direction because they can’t see how else they can take another step. However, Scanners can’t choose one direction. It’s like telling a parent to choose only one child to feed. It’s just not possible. A parent needs to feed all the children.

Whenever people complain that they lack focus, lose interest too easily, can’t find their passion, or can’t make up their minds about what they want to do, the author asks them to consider the honeybee metaphor.

No one in his right mind would ever accuse a bee of lacking focus or losing interest too easily. No one says bees can’t make up their minds which flower they want to be involved with. We assume that when a bee leaves a flower, it’s got a compelling reason to do so. Plain and simple, whether it stays at a flower for 2 seconds or 20 seconds, we understand it needs that amount of time to get what it came for, which is the Reward. A bee’s Reward is the nectar.

And what about your Scanner Reward?

It’s not always easy to answer this very important question. Each Scanner is unique in this sense. So here enters the need for self-observation and self-knowledge for you to be aware of your reward.

Anyways, here is a list of the most common Scanner’s Rewards that can help to identify yours:

  • Knowing how to do lots of things to always jump in and help
  • Insights, revelations, discoveries, glimpses that make you say, “I never knew that!”
  • Anything new: people, places, experiences
  • Having impact, being seen as teachers, performers, ministers, gurus, politicians
  • Exercising intelligence because it feels good
  • Using all parts of yourself, logic, intuition, empathy, and abilities
  • Challenging yourself, testing your limits, seeing how good you can be
  • Studying anything, like how to make sushi, how to sing medieval songs
  • Creating something that didn’t exist before, creating solutions to problems
  • Vision: imagining possibilities, building prototypes, getting things planned
  • Beauty: making things beautiful, having beauty around me, recognizing beauty where it’s not obvious
  • Building expertise: a reputation, a body of work
  • Belonging: finding a community where you can be part of something you admire
  • Discovering what’s going on, how things run, what’s behind the surface
  • Pulling together the big picture, leaving nothing out, seeing relationships between things
  • Saving the day: being competent and stepping in to fix things other people don’t know how to
  • Helping others with your skills or knowledge
  • Learning by doing, for example, how a carpenter builds a table, how to make maple syrup, how to speak a few words of a language

The important thing to notice is that when you are satisfied, or the Reward diminishes, you get bored. It’s as natural as sitting down to eat when you’re hungry and leaving when you’re full.

But the main reason Scanners are different from others, and the reason they get noticed for not sticking to anything is because they learn faster than almost anybody. Scanners run through interests in record time because they love learning more than anything else. This is also the skill they’re most talented at.

Of course, there’s no major in any college called learning. You can’t get a degree in it. And there’s no point in trying to specialize in the field of learning theory because once you understand the issues, you’ll leave that field as fast as any other.

Who are not Scanners?

Specialists are the first ones to come to mind obviously when it comes down to who are not scanners. If you’re someone who is happy being completely absorbed by one field, Barbara labels this kind of people as Divers. Some clear examples of them are professional musicians, scientists, mathematicians, athletes and so on. These people may “relax” with a hobby, but they’re rarely passionate about anything but their field. In their minds, when they find the “right” choice, they can easily give up all the other ideas they considered.

Depressed people often make the mistake of believing they’re Scanners. However, they aren’t. Even though Scanners and depressed people might have a hard time choosing something to do, their motives are of a different nature. Scanners do not choose out of the fear of missing out. Differently, depressed people do not choose because they do not feel desire to do anything.

Likewise, Scanners are mistaken for people with Attention Disorder Disease. Being the author both a Scanner and diagnosed with ADD, she tells out of her personal experience that they are not the same. Although both can feel stuck, their reasons for this are different too. Having an ADD attack produces a mind fog that prevents people from remembering what they’re doing. On the other hand, being stuck for Scanner reasons means you’re being attracted to so many things that you can’t figure out which project to reach for next.

Therefore, do not mistake scanners for something they are not.

Types of Scanner

Scanners are not all equal. Actually, they are basically split into two groups, namely Cyclical and Sequential. The former is defined by never repeating a subject, that is, Sequential Scanners are always moving on and on to the next field. Conversely, the latter is known by getting back to the major areas of interest previously explored. Cyclical Scanners tend to explore in cycles, what so the name. Specifically, inside each of these two big groups, there is a dozen of subdivisions that you can relate to reading the full book.

The Scanner’s Problems & Solutions

Scanners are the victims of a fashion change in history. Until the technology race with the Soviet Union after World War II changed our views, the kind of people now labeled as Scanners were admired.

However, by the mid-1950s, a dramatic change had occurred.

When Russia launched Sputnik, the first-ever satellite to be launched into space, the United States went into shock. Immediately US resources were devoted to catching up to and passing Russian technology, and everything else became secondary. University faculties turned into specialized training centers; science and technology—the realm of specialists—reigned supreme.

Departments of literature, the humanities, even history were seen as irrelevant luxuries. And with that decline in respect came a radical change in the stature of Scanners. No longer described as “well-rounded,” “Renaissance people,” or “erudite,” almost overnight they were seen as irrelevant, silly, irresponsible.

All that context has imposed a psychological pressure on Scanners, not to mention the problems they already have by their very nature. Let’s comment about them and offer some approaches to tackle them down.

Self-Acceptance for Social Rejection

If Scanners didn’t think they should limit themselves to one field, 90 percent of their problems would cease to exist according to Barbara Sher. With the exception of learning project management techniques, the only thing Scanners need is to reject the conventional wisdom that says they are doing something wrong and claim their true identity.

Almost every case of low self-esteem, shame, frustration, feelings of inadequacy, indecisiveness, and inability to get into action simply disappears the moment they understand that they were Scanners and stopped trying to be somebody else.

Scanners are curious because they are genetically programmed to explore everything that interests them.

If you’re a Scanner, that’s your very nature.

Ignore it and you’ll always be fretful and dissatisfied.

If you’ve reached the conclusion that you should give up your attempts to conform to the norm and you’re ready to get the most out of your curious mind and your many talents, it’s time to take a new direction.

Instead of changing yourself as you once wanted to, you’re going to change your surroundings now. You need to roll up your sleeves and direct your energies toward creating an environment for yourself that will support you exactly as you are.

The Scanner Daybook for Excess of Ideas

As a Scanner you must suffer from the excess of ideas, right? Your mind is restless about coming up with new things, even crazy stuff you didn’t know you were capable of thinking of. Many times, the consequence is that you get a lot anxious and eventually stop valuing your own ideas as they always flush in. Not valuing your own ideas is bad for your self-worth, so you must appreciate them even if some of them do not turn out to be great. The very act of considering your explorations worth keeping track of begins to change everything you ever thought about yourself.

The solution for this is called Scanner Daybook.

This is a blank book devoted to what you do each day. It works as your go-to place for capturing your best ideas and also the tangents that pull you off those. Also, this a self-study book where you loose without any restrictions in order to learn, design or imagine whatever you like.

This is your personal version of the Leonardo da Vinci notebooks. If you’ve never seen them, try to get a glimpse on the Internet. They’re an inspiration. The da Vinci notebooks are a great model for a Scanner Daybook. Leonardo’s entries are delightfully out of order, impulsive, and unrestrained.

The farther you follow your fancy in your Daybook pages, the clearer your mind will be. Two important remarks are that no follow-up is necessarily required and the book is not for grocery lists or general journaling, just anything related to being a Scanner. The author recommends us to write up something in it every day for, at least, the next week or two to stick to the habit.

She also suggests us to get a nice notebook like those we are almost afraid to write in. Make sure there are no lines on the pages and give yourself a lot of space to write on. The larger each page and the thicker the book, the better it will be.

So, if you want to value yourself and reduce anxiety, make sure you have your Scanner Book.

Calendar & Interest Index Binder for Time Sickness

Scanners generally have problems with time. The author calls them Time Sickness, a state of mind frequently in which your whole sense of time is compacted into the present moment and you actually forget that tomorrow exists. That translates into the belief that if you put off doing anything you love, it will be lost forever. And when you love more things than you can possibly do now, it creates panic.

Nothing drives away the Time Sickness better than a Calendar.

The best kind is big enough to show everything you hope to do for the next few years all at once. And if it’s hung on the wall as a constant reminder, you might find your panic going away.

You can make it yourself right now. Just find a large sheet of paper or tape some ordinary-size blank sheets together and with a colored marking pen, divide it into six large squares, one for each of the next 6 years.

Why six?

Because it’s good to know you have 6 whole years to play with. Anything less could worry you by making you feel hurried. Anything greater would be hard to understand. Six years seems to be just right for Scanners. Think of every project you really long to do. Figure out which ones you might be able to do soon and which ones can wait.

What if new project ideas come up?

The Interest Index Binder help you keep track of all these ideas. Keep the big list of all your interests in one three-ring binder. The goal is to keep all new interests in one place, like an index.

At first, a Calendar and a Binder may not seem like a very formidable set of tools, but they will give you a good start to manage your Time Sickness.

LTTL for Fear of Commitment

It’s no doubt that Scanners struggle to find a job which really suits their lifestyle. Usual jobs rarely meet their need for variety. That triggers a very common reaction among Scanners, which is the fear of commitment. It’s very understandable where this fear comes from, though it still has drawbacks in many cases like lack of money and experience as the commitment phobia leads us to decline most job opportunities.

How to find a middle path in this context then?

Before you choose a job, the author suggests you to see if it’s compatible with this four-step system she developed for her clients called the LTTL SYSTEM. She first used it in a workshop, and it was so successful at overcoming commitment phobia that she now uses it with many of her Scanner coachees.

The letters stand for Learn, Try, Teach and Leave. In your Scanner Daybook, write up a one-page plan for every career or interest you’re considering, using the LTTL System. For example, let’s say you’re considering a job overseeing operations for a large company. You’d write something like this:

  1. Learn: “For 6 months, I’ll learn how to run the central office of a national graphics firm, coming up with new systems—but only on paper.”
  2. Try: “After the learning curve levels out, I’ll try to get my new systems implemented, perfect them, make sure they run, or build the prototype to iron out all the kinks. This might take 2 more months.”
  3. Teach: “When it’s clear that everything I’ve designed works brilliantly and the company wants me to stay and run it, I’ll explain I can stay only long enough to teach someone else to do the job. Maybe this will take a few more months, and what I teach each day will go into the employees’ manual I’ve arranged to write for the company.”
  4. Leave: “On this day, I’ll have my farewell party, at which I’ll receive tearful goodbyes and be given a severance package, which allows me to live for 1 year without working. I’ve arranged for this by showing the bosses how much money I’d be saving them. During my free year, I’ll pursue my own interests and keep an eye out for the most interesting job opportunity in a different field entirely, at which time I’ll repeat the entire process.”

It can be a bit challenging to find companies that embrace this tour of duty mindset because it is a relatively new idea that Silicon Valley companies like Linkedin are spreading the word about.

Anyways, if you do not find a job within this frame, you can always do freelance or consulting work which by their very nature are project-based.

Above all, the truth is that Scanners need to learn, to invent, and to tinker with things. That’s how they’re wired. Rarely will a Scanner be happy sticking around to turn the switches on and off or keep the system running. To require execution and maintenance of Scanners is not a good use of their ability.

Talent is hard to find. A smart boss knows and respects it.


If you’ve reached the conclusion that you should give up your attempts to conform to the norm and you’re ready to get the most out of your curious mind and your many talents, it’s time to take a new direction. Instead of changing yourself as you once wanted to, you’re going to change your surroundings now. You need to roll up your sleeves and direct your energies toward creating an environment for yourself that will support you exactly as you are, Scanner.

How about you?

What do you think of Barbara’s ideas on Refuse to Choose?

Can you relate to any?

I would love to talk to you in the comments below. 🙂

Anyways, I think you might also like to read How to Be EverythingHow to read a Book.

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