Refuse to Choose by self-help guru Barbara Sher can be a very useful book for many people. She fills a lot of white space in her book with emails by people who are grateful to her and are now living a happy and productive life because they have accepted that they are scanners and have figured out how to live that way.
Considering that Sher wrote several books explaining what a scanner is, I’m not sure I can do an adequate job here, but I’ll give it a try. As she says, “Unlike people who are satisfied with one area of interest, you’re genetically wired to pursue many areas . . .” Scanners have so many interests, they often don’t finish a project or become frozen because they have so many things they want to do that they do nothing, rather than decide. This is a pretty general description. It’s not as simple as just liking a lot of different things; it can be debilitating and confusing to always want to do something new, to get obsessed with something, just to get bored with it as soon as you get an understanding of it, or to feel that if you find that one thing you are supposed to be doing, then you’ll be happy. So, what’s a scanner to do?
According to Sher, the first step is to accept that you are a scanner, and that’s ok. Not everyone has that one calling or career, and that’s ok. Not everyone will understand what they perceive as your “flightiness,” and that’s ok, too. Sher spends over half the book with testimonials and supportive passages about how it is ok to be a scanner.
There are some exercises and suggestions of ways to take control of your scanner tendencies. A “Daybook” is a journal where you write out all your ideas, an outlet for all those “wants” in you. Another idea, a really good one, is to buy a bunch of ½-inch binders, and every time you have a new obsession, start a binder. It’s a place to put all your notes, your magazine clippings, printouts from your research, whatever you find on the subject. Have a passion for traveling to India? Now you have somewhere to put it all so that it’s always on hand. It’s a productive outlet that lends some credence to what other might see as a passing fancy.
The last part of the book takes specific kinds of scanners and gives ideas and suggestions for jobs. The focus is on being who you are and not trying to do something you don’t want to do. The best example is the woman who loved Africa and had given up her life there because she wanted to be near her ailing parents. So, as much as it broke her heart, she gave up Africa because her family was more important. It never occurred to her that she could still go back for short periods of time. She said she could never take that much time off from her job, which she hated by the way. So, Sher said, why not do temporary work? This was a light bulb moment for the woman who began to see a way she could have both important things in her life. She got a job teaching and spends her summers in Africa. It seems a simple solution, but scanners sometimes don’t see the simple solution because they think it has to be all or nothing.
Sher’s book has been helpful to many people. Her seminars and workshops have enlightened many scanners and helped them find their way. But now for the personal note. There’s one aspect that she doesn’t address, that personally, I need help with. What if you’re a weenie? The one characteristic that these scanners have that I don’t: they are a helluva lot braver than I am. They are willing to take whatever job just to learn. They are willing to network and talk to would-be employers just to find out what they would really need to do that job. At the end of the day, the scanner has to act, and unfortunately, you can’t read a book to teach you how to do that. And I don’t really think I’m a scanner. Oh, I have lots of interests, and I flit from one obsession to the next, and I do wish that I could find that one thing that I’m great at so that I could just focus on that one thing, but I really think I’m more of a “shadow artist” as described in The Artist’s Way. I enjoy different forms of arts, but work around it, rather than in it. For example, I would love to write, but I’ve always been an editor because I don’t think I’m much of a writer. I become a member of museums, even though I’d really love to be working in one. But, that’s another book review.
Refuse to Choose can be helpful to many, I’m sure. And I have my “Daybook” to write out my ideas about that bookstore and kitchen store and yarn shop and alpaca farm that I want to have one day. And I have a box of ½-inch binders just waiting to be filled with all those interests that I have—I just have to find all those clippings that I put away somewhere.