Everyone’s Got Many Interests… How Are We Not ALL Scanners?

Everyone’s Got Many Interests… How Are We Not ALL Scanners?

Written by Emilie

Topics: Work

I was recently asked this question and found myself having a hard time answering in a succinct way. So naturally, I thought I would clarify my thoughts by writing a blog post.

First of all, this is a touchy subject. It’s difficult to talk about because it’s so easy for the discussion to come across as an us-vs-them thing. As in: we Scanners are talented in soooo many different areas and have unlimited potential! You non-scanners are not.

Hah… Not exactly the kind of sentiment I wish to convey. Not even the truth!

The Oft-Forgotten

I don’t like lumping people into categories or excluding people. I think that those who aren’t Scanners can get something out of Puttylike too. Really, anyone interested in lifestyle design or personal growth might get something out of it.

But while I hope that Puttylike appeals to a wider audience, my aim with the site is really to speak to a small subset within that group- A subset that I feel has been neglected in all the talk framed around the singular such as ‘living your dream’, ‘finding your life’s passion’, etc.

For Scanners, there is no one path. Trying to force yourself into that model is useless.

It’s More than a Matter of Degree

My initial thought upon being asked this question was that, while most people generally have a few different interests, Scanners simply have more. They become curious in new things faster, feel the urge to switch directions more frequently and become all-consumed by their new obsessions.

But I think it’s more than that.

Scanner Patterns

In her book Refuse to Choose, Barbara Sher uses a lot of real life examples from her years of coaching. Most Scanner types will read the following passages and see themselves in some or all of them:

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 think everyone’s put on this earth to do something; everyone but me, that is.

I’ll never be an expert in anything. I feel like I’m always in a survey class.

If you’re a Scanner, you know how hopeless it can feel when you think you’ve found your ‘true calling’, become all-consumed and then suddenly lose interest. You think, what on earth is wrong with me?! Will I ever be happy?

While non-Scanners may question their direction in life and jump around too, they don’t display this repeated pattern of fascination and total immersion, followed by boredom and an intense desire to move on to a new, unrelated interest.

Exploring till You Find Your Place vs Exploring Forever

Most people have a difficult time deciding what they’re going to be when they grow up. They float around and try out a few different things before they ultimately settle on a path. This is very common.

Scanners float around between interests too. The difference is that they never stop.

Misunderstood

Scanner behaviour is largely misunderstood in society. There’s an expectation that we should all be out there searching for our dream job, our one true calling, or at the bare minimum, a job for which we are qualified that will ‘provide security’.

School is seen as a means to an end. You get to explore, yes. But the ultimate reason for this exploration is to select a career path and then stop exploring. The Scanner never stops exploring.

As Barbara writes,

Our society frowns on this apparent self-indulgence. If course, it’s not self-indulgence at all; it’s the way Scanners are designed, and there’s nothing they can or should do about it. A Scanner is curious because he is genetically programmed to explore everything that interests him. If you’re a Scanner, that’s your nature. Ignore it and you’ll always be fretful and dissatisfied.

A Schizophrenic Resume

While most people have a few different things that interest them, Scanners’ resumes often look like they’ve been written by multiple people.

Scanners don’t simply explore a new interest here and there, they radically change the course of their lives on a regular basis. They have no choice. They simply cannot stay put.

This has certainly been the case in my life. At one point, I seriously thought I would be a musician. Then I considered being a web designer. Then I decided to devote my life to being a film maker. Then I thought I’d be a lawyer. Then I considered becoming a professor (my parents would have loved this). Most recently, I thought I’d be an entrepreneur.

Now, of course, I realize that I can be all of these things.

Living Multiple Lives

If I wanted to, I could try out any one career for a period of time and then switch to the next. But I can also take what drew me to each interest and integrate that into my life. For example, what drew me to film was the pull toward creative expression and the desire to inspire others. This can be achieved in other ways. Similarly, I don’t need to become a professor in order to teach. Right now running Puttylike satisfies both of those needs.

At the same time I’m also choosing to pursuing my passion for scriptwriting in a more direct way. As for education- well, I would love to start up a program for kids one day to teach them about some unconventional possibilities available outside the traditional employment model. That’s another goal of mine.

You see, because Scanners aren’t able to stay put for very long, it means that they are able to contribute in many different ways. This propensity for jumping around isn’t a shortcoming at all; it’s a tremendous gift.

Building a Life Around Variety

One of the reasons I love the lifestyle design movement is that it divorces the idea of what you do from who you are. There is also great emphasis placed on structuring your life in a way that frees up time to do what you love.

This is a perfect starting point for Scanners. Freeing up time to pursue your many interests is the goal. Another goal is integrating your interests into your income streams themselves.

I put out a tweet this week and my new friend @rob_mod said that to him, variety itself is almost an interest. I thought this was an interesting statement and it clearly came from someone who has embraced their puttylike nature.

I too have found that I thrive on variety. I have learned to make a point of working a little on one project, moving to the next, and on to the next. I often cycle through three or four different projects in one day. This schedule prevents me from getting bored and keeps my mind stimulated. It won’t work for every Scanner though. You need to find a schedule that works with your natural productivity rhythm.

To non-Scanners, some variety is nice- everyone gets bored from time to time and we all need breaks. However, to Scanners, variety is something more; it’s a way of life.

***

What do you think? To the Scanners out there, have I left anything out?

Finally, I wish you all (Scanners and non-Scanners) a very lovely holidays! xo.

26 Comments

  1. Rob says:

    I definitely agree with Barbara’s statement about ignoring your nature to your own fretful peril (liberally re-worded). I spent a number of years laser focused on my major in school, which wasn’t the smartest personal move.

    I think I recall Barbara organizing scanners into different “types.” That might be a point worth touching upon–though I’m still on the fence about whether the classification jives with my observations.

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Rob,

      Yeah law school wasn’t amazing for me for the same reason- very laser focused. It works for a while, but once you quench the curiosity, it can become a little tedious.

      Barbara does separate Scanners into ‘types’. I’m pretty sure I’m the one that jumps deep into one thing till they master it and then moves on to the next thing. But I do exhibit some symptoms of other ‘types’ too. Like I usually have a few projects on the go at once, even if I am mainly focused on one thing. So it’s hard to say.

      Thanks for the comment and the inspiration. :)

  2. Rob says:

    This reminds me of what Leo Babauta says in his free ebook ‘Focus’, when he talks of not making a ‘to do list’. He recommends having a few projects going at a time, and when you wake up, just work on whichever interests you at the time. When you get bored, stop, and if you feel like it, work on another project.

    It’s a fantastic approach which I’ve been adopting for a while now and it really does help improve life and ensure you’re always doing something interesting.

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Rob (#2)…

      It’s funny. I downloaded Focus and have been meaning to read it… I guess I just need to..you know…focus.

      Anyway, yes I love this approach, though I do make lists too. I just keep my lists sufficiently flexible. The ‘wake up and choose’ model is fantastic though. I’d love to get to the point when I can do this fully.

  3. Rob (#3) says:

    I have to agree with Rob #2. When juggling a few different projects, I try not to worry about deadline and instead focus on what I find interesting at that time. It might mean finishing one project weeks in advance of a deadline and leaving another to mere minutes before it is due.

    The best work is produced when creativity flows naturally. Sitting down and forcing it out isn’t necessarily the best idea.

    • Emilie says:

      haha Rob… for some reason I had a feeling you would be commenting on this. (Couldn’t resist bumping it up to 3 Robs huh?)

      I agree. It’s nice when you can just listen to your body and do what feels right. Sometimes it’s not possible, with deadlines and such, but otherwise I think it’s a great method.

  4. Peter J says:

    I can’t work out what category I’m in :(
    I have heaps of interests but don’t usually give up on them, rather realize at just how incompetent i really am at doing them. Or i just don’t get on and do things in the first place. Can’t work out what category this fits into :(

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Peter,

      I think the overwhelm is something commonly experienced by most Scanners (and coincidentally most entrepreneurs). Having a whole bunch of ideas at once is exciting but can be totally debilitating. There are some things you can do to make it easier though. Have you read my free ebook ‘The Undeclared for Life Manifesto’ (link is on the sidebar)? I touched on this. But it’s the kind of thing that keeps coming up, so I may put together more of a focused guide on the topic in the future. Hm..

      If you have a bunch of interests all at once, maybe you’re a ‘Sybil’. Yeah, I’m looking over Barbara’s definition. You’re totally a Sybil. :)

  5. Great synopsis, Emilie!!

    I would add that some scanners don’t drop interests completely. I fit into the Sybil category in Barbara’s book–I just keep adding things, and almost always come back around to them.

    I also use the “wake up and do something” method. This works well if you have each project set up and ready to go. It doesn’t work as well when you’re on a deadline with one project and have to stick with it–still working on that.

    Glad to have found Puttylike! I’ll be back!!

    • Emilie says:

      Hi there Do Mi Stauber,

      Good point. I return to past interests sometimes too. Or rather, I re-use the skills I had picked up in new ways, which can be really fun.

      And yes I agree that deadlines make the ‘wake up and go’ approach difficult. This approach also does very little to help you battle Resistance (unless all you need is time- which is sometimes the case). But we don’t always feel like working on what we truly WANT to be working on- that’s the paradox. The ‘wake up and go’ approach wouldn’t help very much with that.

  6. Woo Hoo Hoo! Guess I have yet another classification to put on myself. I am now a “Scanner” as well as “ENTP” as well as “Special” and many are certain “ADHD” – My projects are all multifaceted, as I have done just what you said, and integrate photography, graphic design, web design, video editing, copywriting, search engine optimization, 3d animation, motion graphics, and a bunch of other things into one. But, I’ve taken that not staying put, and stretched it to the next level. For the last 5 years, I’m traveling around, completely based on “Who’s couch am I crashing on next?” – this lets me be in different locations, see what different people do, how they live their lives, what they do for fun, where they go, who they know… and I get to dive in, see what interests me, and add it to my interests to scan.

    Lately, I’ve become a coach/consultant ….. it’s fun, because I get to basically regurgitate all the information that I’ve acquired in all my different fields of study. The beauty is that I can also provide differing perspectives. I can tell you what other people are doing in other industries, and how those things can tie in to your business.

    All in all, I constantly hear how special and unique I am…. and I certainly feel that way. Being a scanner is a gift. Now that I’ve figured out what kind of a life makes for a happy me, I get to scan away, and be rewarded for it.

    Writing my book now. One of my couches just sent me this with the note “I think you may be a scanner, and here is a great article you may want to send your helper.”

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Couch Surfing Ori,

      That’s a very cool story you’ve got there! I think there’s little doubt that you’re a Scanner. And I love how you’ve structured your life. Awesome.

      It’s funny, I view Puttylike as a combination of Scanner discussions and unconventional lifestyle design. And you seem to be combining Scanner traits with digital nomadism, which is similar and very cool indeed.

      Thanks for swinging by. I’m glad your ‘couch’ sent you over here. Drop back again sometime. :)

  7. Bawb says:

    I’ve always considered myself a George Plimpton type. George was a millionaire who tried many different professions in his lifetime but of course he was rich enough to be able to do things the average person would never get a chance at unless they excelled at it. He got to play football professionally, the same goes for race car driver. Anyway I come from a mother who was an oil, acrylic and water painter. She also dabbled in refinishing antiques such as gold leafing mirrors, benches and chairs. My father was a craftsman and built houses, remodeled homes and could build anything but was a supervisor for a company because he didn’t want to just get buy like his father who was a carpenter and a farmer. My Dad also liked photography. We I am my mother and my Father combined but even ore so. When I was young I loved to draw cartoons while listening to the teachers in school. It helped me concentrate on what they were teaching. I got in trouble in music class when I draw a cartoon of the teacher and because it looked so much like her and it made the class laugh I got D-Hall after school. At 13 I built a tree house with the tree running up through the middle. It had bunk beds a window and a door that folded down with a screen. It lasted at least 25 years before it was torn down. Then while in my early days in college. I was involved with radio and television. I became a band manager and I starred in a Horror movie. After getting sick of babysitting musicians I wanted be more involved creatively so I got more involved into sound engineering and toured the mid-west with a band. I came back off the road and went back to school to finish my degree in communications and the went out to L.A. and was involved in a few movies and worked for electronic store in the audio department. I returned to the East Coast to take care of my mother at the end of her life. I got the chance to teach lighting for TV and Film. However, I started helping people I know fix their homes replacing sills, gutting bathrooms, building huge decks myself. 10 years went by and thinking I fell into this area I have an urge to get back into video and audio again. Some of this is because of licensing and regulations but I certainly can get those if that’s what I want to do but I feel I am more creative than just being a contractor. People look at my resume and say over qualified or they have no idea how to fit me or they want take advantage of me in some dead end job. In looking for ideas to focus I came upon your website only to find maybe I am a scanner. Lol, all I can think of the movie scanners where the guys head graphically blows up and his esophagus flaps around after the head itself has been vaporized. Anyway, thanks for a place for people like us to share.

  8. Annie Andre says:

    Emilie,
    Very well said. I’m sure you have you read Margaret Lobenstines book “Renaissance Soul” which is the same as a scanner..

    I’ve been a closet scanner for years. I pooled all my interests under one umbrella to strategically make career jumps while nourishing my inner scanner. People always looked at my resume and said WOW, how weird. But i defenitely see it as a benefit. A scanner is flexible and able to quickly become an expert. Scanners embrace change. They don’t fear it.

    I agree, most People do have multiple passions and interests but most can deal with one main passion and be content. I think scanners can’t. And if they do settle then they will undeniably never be happy.

    My first job out of college was in the accounting department. I met someone who had been an accountant for over 35 years. I thought oh wow, how wonderful to know what you will do for the rest of your life. NOT! I loved it for a year and then It was on to my next job.

    I think the guy from my story is still an accountant and he’s pretty happy about it to this day…I would wither and hate my life….

  9. Lesley says:

    Emilie,

    It’s 1 AM and I’m ridiculously tired so I may not even make sense right now, but I just need to tell you that I am so relieved and grateful to have found your site. I was pointed to it by a commenter on Scoutie Girl and my God it was like hitting the jackpot of “I am not alone”.

    I’ve just read a few posts so far, but everything you say is as though you’re reading my mind. What a comfort to know that I’m not the only person like this. That maybe I don’t have to choose one thing, or even choose several things, or choose at all.

    I’ve had job interviews before where people have confronted me about my wide array of skills, asking questions like “well…if you know how to code Drupal, why are you applying to be a writer?” “So I see you left social media consulting for a Summer to write musicals for a children’s theater camp…?” etc. I kept thinking something was wrong with me for feeling so unsatisfied when I’d take full-time jobs, even if they seemed good at first. Nothing ever has truly stuck long-term. I’ve felt almost burdened by my natural talents in art and music because I love them but also don’t know if I really want to make them my livelihood, but struggle with that feeling of obligation because they’re the ‘gifts’ I was given and how selfish would it be to keep them to myself, etc.

    I’ve contemplated every career path from owning a pet and people bakery to starting an SEO firm (doing that now), building a cold processed soap empire to being the first female late night talk show band leader, writing Broadway musicals (kind of doing that, not quite Broadway yet) to selling my artwork (which I’m currently doing and think will be one thing I always do even in a small capacity), to modeling (attempting now) and a dozen other things. I felt like this must have been some crazy quarterlife crisis but then I realized I have felt like this since I even formed memories. Age 7 lemonade stands weren’t just a way to pass the time. I started brainstorming what else I could sell, made ‘professional’ looking signs, etc. I have notebooks from middle school with business ideas in them. I guess I’ve been entrepreneurial forever.

    I’ve totally rambled like crazy just now. But I’m just kind of spilling over with feelings and excitement that I found your website. It’s helping me to feel like being the way that I am might literally BE the way that I am, and that I won’t have to choose just one thing, or even 5 things, and that change is a certainty for me but that it’s a good thing because each new thing I try will contribute to my overall life experience and other people’s lives.

    Thank you so much for having the courage and the scanner-obsession to make this website, even if you abandon it in a year! haha. What you’ve created so far is helping so many people already.

    : )

    • Emilie says:

      WOW! Lesley, I’m sitting in a coffee shop right now, grinning like an idiot. Haha. Thank you for this message, and CONGRATULATIONS on discovering that you’re a multipotentialite!

      I think you’ll find that there are a lot of really wonderful, like-minded people hanging around these parts… ;)

      • Lesley says:

        Aw yay, thank you!! Yes I can’t wait to explore your site more and really read through everything. I think there is some seriously great work to be done and more scanners need to realize that they don’t need to be squeezed into little boxes and that it’s okay to try a bunch of things.

        SO pumped to keep reading your stuff! :)

  10. Emily Rose says:

    I am just now really learning what being a scanner/multipassionate person really is – I always thought that I was scatter brained or wrong for changing directions all the time (at least those are things I was told I was), and I really appreciate finding your site and these wonderful articles that are helping to really start understanding myself. Thank you for that!

    ?

  11. Benny says:

    Hah! I commented on a lot of other posts before reading this one, and now I see that you’ve already said a lot of things that I’ve said in my comments!
    I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment… and it’s gotten me further interested in the idea of how scanners spend their free time vs how non-scanners spend their free time. I’ve noticed that often, when a scanner spends their free time in the “traditional” way (games, drugs), it can often be destructive, and this can result in scanners feeling more left out than they should… in any case, the “lost” feeling that I feel when I spend my days just working and playing in a traditional manner can often be helped by taking a class, or finding a project to work on with someone, or some sort of organized way of pursuing a different interest that requires some sort of commitment.

  12. Shawn says:

    I cant decide what I want to do with my life so I just play competitive e-sports computers games. I hate making choices and making time investments. I spent 3 years in the army because I know its a one and only path, a genuine place unlike choosing a job between 30 sales companies or 10 schools. Ofcourse I did have a hard time choosing an MOS but the most basic came to mind, infantry. Also physical training can only benefit you no matter what you end up doing so its a positive direction. All I do now is bodybuilding and video games and occasionally read psychology articles which brought me here. Nice site btw.

  13. Hi Emilie,

    I’ve just stumbled across your site and discovered a new name for myself – I think I’m a scanner!

    I have lots of interests (passions) and have REALLY been struggling with people telling me that I should change my website (that I love) to have a more narrow niche and more targetted audience.

    Not sure how busy busy busy you are but I would love for you to visit lifestoogood.net and let me know what you think – I’m not asking yu to review the site or comment or become my best friend or anything but my guess is you could probably see if I fit your description of a multi-potentialite or scanner. The one thing I love about my site (and I’m just getting started) is that it offers lots of possibilities to link to other interests (coaching, writing, consultancy, lifestyle design, life change & business) that I can help people with – no problem if not & I’d understand but a brief nod from you would give even further validation to a conclusion that I am reaching.

    ANyways, I’ve subscribed to your list and really like what you’ve got here – very nice!

    take care & best wishes,
    Alan

  14. Ciel says:

    Your website has been a huge help to me in stopping the constant stream of negative self-criticism concerning the fact that I never finish anything, and being so ‘spread out’ all over the place with my many interests. :)

    I just have one question.
    I know I am like this NOT because I’m flaky, immature and indecisive, but is it in principle possible to be that way and act like a scanner because of it? I am only a teenager now, so I can’t know if I’ll ever get myself a ‘proper’ career or not. What if I do? What if I end up being one of those people who are just all over the place until they find that one interest? As I’m not an adult yet, I can’t know, but is there something else that distinguishes these two groups of people?

    As for my interests, there’s too many to list. Japanese, martial arts, yoga, piano, flute, knitting, drawing, 3d imaging, cooking, math, science… could they be indicative of my ‘scannerism’?

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Ciel,

      I think the fact that you’re asking these questions already shows that you are most definitely not flaky or immature. You sound pretty ambitious to me. :)

  15. Erica says:

    I can’t believe it took me so long to find this wonderful website! Maybe because 8 years ago I was studying real estate? Or travel? Or maybe it was when I was doing nail art?

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