Discovering, a couple of years ago, that I was a Scanner, was a turning point in my life.
If you’ve never come across the word in this context before, alternative names include Renaissance woman/man/soul, polymath, da Vinci personality, multipassionate, multipotentialite, and some that are less complimentary – dilettante, flake, Jack-of-all-trades, fantasist.
Barbara Sher, who coined the term Scanner, goes into it in much more depth in her books, but the gist is that it’s someone who has many interests, usually moves jobs often, can’t seem to settle on one thing to do and who has ideas all the time, and frequently leaves projects seemingly unfinished.
I’m not normally one for labels, but I’d struggled for years with my many, many interests, and my attention span waxing and waning depending on what I was doing, but also on when I was doing it and what other things were currently on my radar. I had more hobbies than the rest of my group of friends put together, and found it utterly impossible to stay in a job for more than 18 months or so without being bored to tears. By the time I was 24 I had a CV which spanned as many pages as my Dad’s did – he was 66 at the time.
Even the line dancing I adored, I stopped once I’d reached a certain level. I qualified for, competed in and placed in the World Championships in Nashville in 2000, and it has taken me fifteen years to rekindle my love affair with line dancing. I got what I wanted out of it, and then I quit. (Though I’ve worn cowboy (girl?) boots ever since I was nine.)
Modern Western society expects us all to be specialists, and to choose one thing to do for the rest of our lives. Even at 16 I raised eyebrows by choosing English, French, German and Physics for my A levels. So many people told me that I should have taken another Humanities subject. I’d have taken something arty (photography or textiles or something like that), but I was told at school, repeatedly from childhood, that I was academic and not creative. So I did what I could at the time, while dreading the thought of refining my choices even further.
My tendency to stop completely and move on, once whatever I was doing ceased to be interesting or fun, has been frowned upon over the years too – because in our society, whether at work or at play, quitting is seen as giving up, as being unreliable and therefore as a bad thing. I couldn’t understand why people would continue with all sorts of things, most of which were either supposed to be fun or which took up a considerable chunk of precious life – work, relationships, hobbies, projects – long after they stopped enjoying them.
Discovering blogs (or weblogs, as they were known in the misty recesses of 2005) was a revelation – here at last was somewhere where I could write about and share the day to day stories of being me, of everything I did – and instead of simply recording it in a diary, I found likeminded people! Other people’s writing, blog comments, forums for incredibly niche hobbies like collecting model horses – for the first time, no one judged me for having a series of bursts of enthusiasm for something, then taking a break and returning to it later.
(A vaguely relevant side note – I found it hilarious when people started extolling the virtues and wonder of internet dating, and meeting people online, a few years ago – because these were the same people that gave me repeated lectures on how stupid I was to go to London to meet new friends I’d met online through my hobbies… whether Wheel of Time fans, model horse collectors or photographers. My first internet meetup was with Chloe in London when I was 19, back in 2006 – and it was apparently far from normal to do that then. She’s now one of my dearest friends. Who knew something held in such suspicion would become so mainstream so fast?!)
Regardless of the type of project, idea or pastime, I followed (follow!) a pattern of sorts – I’d have an idea or something would pique my interest, I’d research it a bit and decide I wanted to learn about it or learn to do it. I’d do some more research, meet some people who already did it, buy some things related to it (craft materials, jewellery tools, small collectable resin horses, typewriters…) and then throw myself into it with an all-consuming passion. Until the next thing caught my attention.
An example – at the time I write, I have just found the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic series. I ADORED MLP when I was younger, and had avoided the new style ones in case I hated them. Then I saw an episode on YouTube and am now devouring the first and second series on DVD, while scouring shops and the internet for MLP memorabilia to keep on my desk, pin up in my studio, and hang from my handbag.
I’ve driven both my (now ex) partners and my parents, and probably my friends too, up the wall for decades with my wild enthusiasm for a new project which dwindles into inertia just as they’re starting to come round to the idea of me having chosen My Thing, at last.
So after the best part of a decade of doing this and blogging, and trying to justify my inability to choose or find that One Thing to do with my career and free time that was supposed to keep me interested for the rest of my life, I found one of Barbara Sher’s books in the library.
And I read it, and I cried… because there at last was proof that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t a flake and that I wasn’t broken. I just had a different kind of brain – and there were other people out there like me.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I’ve actively sought out other people who get it, though the majority of people I know still don’t. Which is ok – we’re just wired differently! Lots of the solopreneurs I now count among my dearest friends (the internet is a properly magical thing!) are also scanners, and we’re learning how to make our personalities work with our businesses rather than forcing ourselves into a box.
When I find a new thing, the time I spend engaged with it varies – from a few days to a few years, and I am never without several things on the go. (if I’d had a £1 for every time someone asked me how I fit so much in and follow so many hobbies, I could probably retire tomorrow). And I have a noticeable cycle, though the timing isn’t consistent – generally, if it’s something I discover and like enough to chuck myself into it, I make friends within it and then continue to return to it after intervals, throughout my life.
Examples of these include collecting, painting and showing model horses; my car Poppy and the club I belong to through her; roller skating (started at age 6 and I go through phases of being addicted to it every few years); horse riding; jewellery making; papercraft and scrapbooking; customising shoes and clothes; reworking the interior of my home; sewing; camper vans; cross stitching, baking, wanting to write a book… the list is endless (almost literally).
The only things which are consistent are writing and photography. Which brings me to the heart of this post.
When it became apparent at an absurdly early age that I was going to write, and read, far more than I was going to do anything else consistently (the photography came later), it’s been suggested repeatedly that I should be an author and write books, or a journalist and write articles, or a travel writer, or [insert traditional writing-related-job here].
And they’re all good ideas on the surface. But the trouble is, I don’t want to write whole books (well, I do, but I know myself well enough now to know that completing more than one is highly unlikely – the kick I’ll get when I finish Unfurling is highly likely to be enough for me to move onto something else instead of writing a second book).
I don’t want to dive so deeply into one subject that I don’t have time or energy left over to explore all the other amazing things out there – which, if I pursued a traditional writing career, I would have to do. Even journalists, who write short to medium articles instead of whole books, usually specialise in a broad topic – business, or travel, or cookery, or lifestyle.
And while thinking about my blog, and where it’s headed over the next few years, and how I got into blogging in the first place, it occurred to me that it really is the perfect place for my scanner personality to develop, grow and flourish.
It takes the two things I do naturally and consistently, and applies them to the ever-changing series of things that I do equally naturally, but much less consistently. I can write one-sentence posts, or 2,000 word epics like this one – and I get to choose, rather than an editor.
Since I very first started blogging back in 2006, and in a more structured way since the inception of Ducking Fabulous in 2010, I have used my very own space on the internet to record, write, think out loud and muse about life, learning and all the things that catch my fancy.
To explore and investigate my passing enthusiasms, catch ideas I’d like to follow up in the future, and record my journey through learning and practising and discovering. It gives me a self-made library to refer to when I come back to something I’ve done before, and means I have tangible evidence of how I’ve improved, changed, or grown in a particular area.
Through my writing I’ve learned to give myself permission not to finish things, and to hop, if I want to, between interests. I allow myself to stop doing things if they’re not working – a complete antithesis to the previous generation’s work ethic, which tends to be along the power-through-and-keep-going-even-if-it’s-hard-and-it-should-be-worth-it-in-the-end lines.
Credit is also due to the rise of blogging in popularity and as a career choice – I no longer have to explain what a blog is, and it’s the best excuse I’ve ever had for trying out new things – all in the name of fresh content for my lovely readers. Yet this blog, seemingly uniquely for a blog that supports a business, is still very much my little space on the internet. I’m forever reading articles which tell you what you must and mustn’t do in order for your blog to be businesslike, or relevant, or grow your readership… and I stand by my belief that a blog is the equivalent of your home online.
I want people to see me for who I am, and if they resonate with me and like my writing, then some part of my business will probably be a good fit for them. Whether it’s jewellery, tarot decks or courses depends very much on them and what they’re looking for.
I’m trying this year for the first time to schedule my posts and write them in advance, and while it works for some types of post, it’s failing miserably for others. Like these. I need to write them when the inspiration strikes, and then I want them out there so I can have the conversations they spark while the subject is still fresh in my mind.
So what about you? Are you also a scanner, or beginning to realise you could be one? Let me know in the comments (or email me if you’d prefer it not to be public) – I’d love to know.
With love and unicorns,
I went to school as a interdisciplinary studies major because I value my multi-leveled interest in life!
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Love that, Bernard – I wish I’d had the foresight to do something similar back then!
Oh, yes. All of the yes. Find a thing, obsess about the thing. Get to the standard of doing the thing that I am happy with. Get distracted by a new thing. Move on.
I will go back to older things with a greater or lesser degree of obsession later, or if I need them to do a new thing (so at present I’m into Steampunk which has involved revisiting sewing, painting, sculpting things, jewellery making and corsetry), but rarely with the same initial focus as when if was a new thing. This week, I’m bustle making and learning tambour embroidery.
Interestingly, I’ve chosen the one career in medicine (geriatrics) that allows you combine all of the traditional specialties. It never made sense to me before why I was drawn to it. Happily, it provides enough disposable income to indulge my latest shiny distraction 🙂
Oooh another Steampunk fan! (that’s one of my things I go back and forth to, too – though I can’t sew for toffee so sadly am unlikely to make my own corsets any time soon… I shall stick to jewellery and embellishing!!) just found your twitter and your bustle-making kitties… 🙂
And how gorgeous that your career does let you do all the (medical) things! My day job’s not bad, but not quite as varied as I’d ideally like… but like you say, it gives me the pennies to spend on the shiny things….!
Well you already know I’m a scanner Carla! Likewise I hated choosing at school, and did a non traditional A Level combination (I’d have done a bit of everything if they’d let me).
I’m still adapting my working life to my need for variety, but have discovered that contracts, freelancing, freeranging and/or working for agencies are the things that suit me best.
Oh and don’t forget the URLs I buy for each new idea and rarely end up using….
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Hahahaha yes, I didn’t include the URLs but maybe I should have done – finding out you did the same was such a relief!! Ooh what did you do for A levels?
I did chemistry, biology and geography, and an AS Level in German 🙂
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I have to admit to being very much a “one thing at a time” kind of chap. I’m sure this is as a result of my dyspraxia, which makes planning and sorting out multiple things at once a real brain-breaker, therefore I’m very impressed by those who can do it.
And as for settling down in to a fixed “career”, the days of doing that are drawing to an end. The “job for life” at one firm has been dead a while, so people are already getting used to changing jobs, so changing career shouldn’t be as much of a surprise. The only downside as far as I can see of a wide, rather than deep experience is that a lot of workplace staff “perks” are on a length of service basis.
Or, as “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” has it…
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t
I love that quote! (and have no intention of choosing what I want to do with my life by 40, either :P) I would secretly love to be able to do one thing at a time, but have accepted it’s probably never going to happen. I’m kind of in awe of people like you who can 🙂
Not thought of it in terms of staff perks – I wonder if that will gradually change as people’s working lives do?
I think the idea is to make it more attractive for someone to stay in a job full time (saves the company the cost of training up a replacement). There may be other ways of persuading people to stay long term, but I’m stumped!
I think I am a recovering scanner… I flitted between things which then got successful(ish) and then quit for a few years but I feel settled in what I am now doing, though I want to do more within that one particular field. Still when it comes to work I don;t think I’ve found the right thing yet.
I hate the “shame” you get for having a hobby, like its not cool to do stuff with your spare time other than the commonly accepted pastimes of DIY, exercise, sport spectating, reading and watching TV. I used to sand jewellery in my car when I was falling behind on my orders and get a grilling from co-workers. Where I work now everyone knows I sew and write about it for extra cash so no one bats an eye, but I wouldn’t bring a quilt into work to work on at lunch and maybe there’s a bit of shame there too.
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I could have sworn I’d replied to this – sorry lovely lady. Yep, one of things I like the most about my current day job is the fact that lots of people do things outside of work, so spending our lunchtimes doing something other than exercise or reading gets interested questions rather than shame and a label of ‘the weird one’. Today I have a pair of rainbow-decopatched shoes to finish off at lunch!
You always amazed me with how successful you made all the different things that you did – I definitely struggle to follow through on things in the same way, though I’m learning to embrace that too, in a weird way. x
I’ve heard the terms multi-passionate and multi-potentiate before, but not scanner. I will have to look into that book. Although I’ve slowed down, I’ve cycled through hobbies of knitting, crochet, jewelry, sewing, gardening, birthday cakes, photography, running, stamping, and yoga. My longest love has been belly dance, and my blog.
So nice to know there’s a kindred spirit in the world!
Dancing and blogging – two of my long term loves too, Liz! Wonderful to know there are kindred spirits out there 🙂 x
Carla, this is an eloquently written soliloquy for the ‘tradition’ of ‘job for life’ and should be leafleted around all educational establishments especially at ‘option’ time. (Options, they’re a laugh aren’t they?) Academic subjects are only part of life, hell, formal education is only part of life! Keep the fairy wings polished my darling!
<3 I wish I'd known all of this back when I was choosing my options (pfft) but at least I appreciate the freedom I'm working towards now :) Glad you appreciate it - too many parents get sucked into the school propaganda and don't x