The following is an excerpt from the book
Refuse to Choose!
by Barbara Sher
Published by Rodale; March 2006;$24.95US/$33.95CAN; 1-59486-303-2
Copyright © 2006 Barbara Sher
Buy this book from Amazon.com
Are You a Scanner?
"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, that
"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
"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
If you've ever said these things to yourself, chances are good that you're a
Scanner, a very special kind of thinker. Unlike those people who seem to find
and be satisfied with one area of interest, you're genetically wired to be
interested in many things, and that's exactly what you've been trying to do.
Because your behavior is unfamiliar -- even unsettling -- to the people around
you, you've been taught that you're doing something wrong and you must try to
change. But what you've been told is a mistake -- you have been misdiagnosed.
You're a different creature altogether.
What you've assumed is a disability to be overcome by sheer will is actually
an exceptional gift. You are the owner of a remarkable, multitalented brain
trying to do its work in a world that doesn't understand who you are and doesn't
know why you behave as you do.
And unless you know who you are, you're going to agree with them! Not only
would that be unfair and inaccurate, it could prevent you from developing your
gifts and making your contribution to the world. The stakes are very high.
Identifying yourself as a Scanner means changing the way you see yourself in
the world. It starts with 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. That's what I've tried to create in this book.
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
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.
How do you know if you're a Scanner?
Maybe it would be useful to first discuss who isn't one.
Who isn't a Scanner?
Well, specialists aren't Scanners, obviously. If you're someone who is happy
being completely absorbed by one field, I've labeled you a Diver. Some clear
examples of Divers are professional musicians, scientists, mathematicians,
professional chess players, athletes, business owners, and financiers. These
people may "relax" with a hobby, but they're rarely passionate about anything
but their field. In fact, Divers often wonder how people can be interested in
anything but what they're interested in. Sometimes they even make fun of
themselves for it, like the racing bicyclist Tim Krabbé described in The Rider,
who glances up from his gear to look at people walking and says, "Nonracers. The
emptiness of those lives shocks me."
By contrast, Scanners rarely think what other people are doing is empty.
They're always curious to know "what's out there" and love to poke their noses
into just about anything. A Diver rarely spends a moment wondering what he might
be missing when he's totally absorbed in his field. On the other hand, 99
percent of Scanners spend a lot of time scanning the horizon, thinking about
their next move.
Many people look like Scanners, but aren't
People who continually move from one idea to another often have very
different reasons for doing so. Some are simply trying to make up their minds,
and when they find the "right" choice, they can easily give up all the other
ideas they considered.
Others move between ideas for reasons that surprised me when I first heard
them. Here are some examples.
I spent years frustrating myself and everyone around me with my constant
jumping from one thing to another. What I learned about myself eventually is
that I knew deep down what I should be doing all along, but was simply too
scared to commit myself to it. The constant stream of alternative ideas was
simply an advanced avoidance technique.
I think I've always avoided what I really want to do because I was afraid I'd
be mediocre, or fail completely, so I'd keep changing my mind before I produced
anything that could be judged.
Depressed people often make the mistake of believing they're Scanners.
Depression can create a fractured consciousness that doesn't allow one to pay
attention to anything for long, and some depressed people believe that the cause
of their depression is their inability to find something they can care about
intensely. But the reverse is usually true: They can't care about anything
because they're depressed. One of the main symptoms of depression is the
inability to feel desire. A woman who had experience with depressed people told
The types of attention span problems that have to do with depression are
quite different than job-interest attention spans. When you get so you can't
read a book (and even newspaper articles are too complicated to remember from
start to finish), you can't pay attention during a conversation, and you have no
idea where your keys and wallet are when usually you know exactly where you put
them, then you need to talk to somebody about therapy and medication, both of
which work wonders.
And then we have ADD. Before knowing who they were, many Scanners assumed
that their "problem" might be attention deficit disorder (ADD), simply because
everyone assumed that being interested in lots of things was a form of
distraction. In my experience, I've found that many Scanners actually do have
ADD, but they are true Scanners all the same. I've also met people with
diagnosed ADD who appear to be Scanners but are not. Once you understand that a
bona fide Scanner has no problem with the normal ability to focus (as opposed to
ADD-style hyper-focus), the confusion with ADD usually clears up.
I'm a Scanner and have been diagnosed with ADD. And I can tell you that
nothing is clearer than the difference between feeling stuck because I'm having
an ADD attack -- that is, my mind is in a fog and I have trouble remembering
what I'm doing -- and being stuck for the typical Scanner reasons of being
attracted to so many things that I can't figure out which project to reach for
Of course, there are many people who are quite content in their fields and
have a few normal interests in addition, such as a lawyer who enjoys cooking and
travel, or an advertising art director who collects antiques. But there's a
noticeable difference between someone with a normal range of interests and a
Who is a Scanner?
Intense curiosity about numerous unrelated subjects is one of the most basic
characteristics of a Scanner. Scanners are endlessly inquisitive. In fact,
Scanners often describe themselves as being hopelessly interested in everything
(although, as you'll find out, this isn't so). A Scanner doesn't want to
specialize in any of the things she loves, because that means giving up all the
rest. Some even think that being an expert would be limiting and boring.
Our society frowns on this apparent self-indulgence. Of 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.
It's a whole new way of thinking, I know. And much of the world doesn't see
Scanners' behavior as admirable or even acceptable. But it wasn't always this
A recent change in fashion
Scanners are the victims of a fashion change in history, and a recent one at
that. Until the technology race with the Soviet Union after World War II changed
our views, the kind of people I now call Scanners were admired. But 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 our 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.
Now, regarding Scanners, this change in thinking is complete. Almost everyone in
our society takes it as a self-evident truth -- obvious, simple common sense --
that Scanners are doing something wrong. Unfortunately, that has come to include
Reprinted from: Refuse to Choose! A Revolutionary Program for Doing
Everything That You Love by Barbara Sher © 2006 Rodale Inc. Permission granted
by 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
Buy this book from Amazon.com
Barbara 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.