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What is a Scanner?

by Barbara Sher

Excerpt from her book Refuse to Choose!

Elaine has found a few hours for herself, a rare occurrence, and she’s determined to do something she loves to do. Exactly what that will be is still undecided, but it won’t be hard to find, because she loves to do so many things.

She stands in front of a large table in her garage, looking at two projects she has started but never finished. To her left are two straw baskets of brightly colored yarn, a tube of glue, and a package of construction paper. Looking at them almost makes her mouth water.

She’s always happy doing crafts and promised a scrapbook to a friend many months ago. She tries not to look at the shelves behind the table, where her clay rests inside a plastic bag next to some small wooden tools.

When she has more time, she’ll make that ceramic piece she thought up, a great idea she got while looking through some antique picture books a while back. But she wishes she could do it right now.

She forces her eyes back to the table. In front of her, still in the paper bag from the store, are four books she bought months ago about the history of Poland. Also, in the bag is a package of unopened audiocassettes and a device she bought that will allow her to record conversations on the telephone.

She wants to interview the older members of her family, all of whom are immigrants from Poland. There hasn’t been a moment to look in the books since she found them at the bookstore. They sit there like a tantalizing dessert, saved for some time when she can relax, after the chores are done.

But some of her relatives are growing old; she really should call them soon. She wonders if she should make a phone call right now and at least set up some phone appointments with her family and learn how to hook up the telephone recording system. She misses her Aunt Jessie.

pianoBut on the right, sitting on the floor in a tall, narrow box leaning against the table, still in the box it came in, is the electric piano she got for her birthday 3 months ago.

She could set it up in 20 minutes if there were just a clear space for it in the house. Elaine knows the piano has to stay set up somewhere, because if she has to bring it out and put it away all the time, she’ll never get around to it.

But who has time to clear out a space when the whole house needs clearing out? If only she were five people instead of just one, she’d do everything, all of it, right now, today. She looks with longing at the black-and-white drawing of the electric piano on the box and can almost hear the music.

Her voice feels like it’s starting to fill up with music and her fingers remember the touch of the keys. Could she just open it right here in the garage and do a little before dinner?

No. Elaine remembers that she promised her 8-year-old daughter a costume for a party coming up in a few weeks, and she really should get started on that and leave all this for another day. In fact, she’s had it set up on the dining room table for 3 days, and the family has had to eat on trays in front of the TV set.

Embarrassing. She’ll do that right now. But she suddenly remembers that she had another wonderful idea today in the car on the way home from her meeting with a client, an idea about a way to bring in some income that would absolutely work and would cost very little to start, and Elaine feels a familiar sense of apprehension that if she doesn’t do something about it right away she’ll forget it like all the other good ideas she keeps having.
Every single thing she sees or thinks of sparkles with potential and pulls her attention. She wants to do them all. But she’s totally stuck and ends up doing none of them. She might as well pick up the cleaning and head for the market.

She sighs and walks outside into the fresh air and remembers she wanted to go for a run today. Her dog, who has been lying on the floor nearby, gets up to follow and wonders what’s bothering her. So does she.

Elaine doesn’t have attention deficit disorder. She checked it out with doctors long ago. And she knows that when she’s involved in any project, she doesn’t get distracted by irrelevant things.

So what’s stopping her? Why is she so indecisive? For that matter, why is she interested in so many things? Why is she such a great starter but then runs out of steam and leaves a trail of unfinished projects behind her?

She doesn’t blame her friends and family for smiling knowingly whenever she gets enthused about something new -- she lets that roll off her back easily -- but it bothers her that she almost never gets to see an end product.

But how can anyone choose between so many interests? Which is the right one? Which is the most important? Another thought comes to her. She remembers that she meant to polish up her Spanish, because she might be able to teach part-time next year, and she can use the income.

Elaine shakes her head, almost resenting the new idea and feeling a hint of despair that there will always be something new and interesting moving into her line of vision; even if she ignores them all and firmly chooses one project or another, these new thoughts have the power to make her unsure of any choice she’s made.

Most of her acquaintances know exactly what they’re doing with their lives. Why doesn’t she just pick something and do it? After all, she’s very smart and has been told she could do anything! Why can’t she get going?

Does this sound familiar?

Does Elaine remind you of yourself? Do you also wonder why you’re caught in this kind of dilemma? Are you unable to figure out what drives you and why you’re so different from people who made their choices early and followed one path? Why can’t you start working on your dreams—and stick to them?

How will you ever focus your curious mind on one path when you can’t bear to turn your back on anything? What makes you tick?

Believe it or not, there are very good answers to those questions. If, like so many Scanners I’ve met, you think the situation is hopeless, you’re in for some nice surprises.

Here’s the first and most important surprise: If Scanners didn’t think they should limit themselves to one field, 90 percent of their problems would cease to exist!

What is a Scanner?

Scanners love to read and write, to fix and invent things, to design projects and businesses, to cook and sing, and to create the perfect dinner party. (You’ll notice I didn’t use the word “or,” because Scanners don’t love to do one thing or the other; they love them all.)

A Scanner might be fascinated with learning how to play bridge or bocce, but once she gets good at it, she might never play it again. One Scanner I know proudly showed me a button she was wearing that said, “I Did That Already.”

To Scanners the world is like a big candy store full of fascinating opportunities, and all they want is to reach out and stuff their pockets.

It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? The problem is, Scanners are starving in the candy store. They believe they’re allowed to pursue only one path. But they want them all. If they force themselves to make a choice, they are forever discontented.

But usually Scanners don’t choose anything at all. And they don’t feel good about it.

As kids, most Scanners had been having a great time! At school no one objected to their many interests, because every hour of every student’s school day is devoted to a different subject.

But at some point in high school or soon after, everyone was expected to make a choice, and that’s when Scanners ran into trouble. While some people happily narrowed down to one subject, Scanners simply couldn’t.

The conventional wisdom was overwhelming and seemed indisputable: If you’re a jack-of-all-trades, you’ll always be a master of none. You’ll become a dilettante, a dabbler, a superficial person -- and you’ll never have a decent career.

Suddenly, a Scanner who all through school might have been seen as an enthusiastic learner had now become a failure.

But one thought wouldn’t leave my mind: If the world had just continued to accept them as they were, Scanners wouldn’t have had any problems.

With the exception of learning project management techniques, the only thing Scanners needed was to reject conventional wisdom that said they were 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 disappeared the moment they understood that they were Scanners and stopped trying to be somebody else.

It appears that Scanners are an unusual breed of human being. One reason they don’t recognize themselves is that they don’t often meet people like themselves.

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Reprinted from: Refuse to Choose! A Revolutionary Program for Doing Everything That You Love - by Barbara Sher

> Also see her related article: Are You A Scanner?

© 2006 Rodale Inc., Emmaus, PA 18098. Available wherever books are sold or directly from the publisher by calling (800) 848-4735 or visit their website at

Barbara SherBarbara Sher is a speaker, career/lifestyle coach, and the best-selling author of eight books on goal achievement.

Her books have sold millions of copies and been translated into dozens of languages.

She has appeared on Oprah, The Today Show, 60 Minutes, CNN, and Good Morning America, and her popular public television specials air nationally throughout the year.

Barbara has taught her revolutionary systems in universities, in Fortune 100 companies, and at professional conferences all over the world.

Her site: Genius Press

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