​Those of us who have many interests have a difficult time focusing on just one. When we are very young, we’re often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This plants the seed early on that we have to pick one thing, one interest and develop throughout our work lives. We often feel enormous pressure to find our true calling, identify our passion. This can be very frustrating and lead to feeling like there’s something wrong with us. During this episode, Robbi shares her personal challenges, experiences and frustrations with having multiple interests in a world that celebrates the expert; and what helped her finally realize that she was just wired differently and how to fully celebrate who she is.

How would you answer the following questions?

  • Do you have an intense curiosity about numerous, unrelated subjects?
  • Do you run into a problem when it comes to choosing from among your various interests?
  • Are you endlessly inquisitive?
  • Are you energized by learning – do you love to learn more than you love to know; which may involve problem solving, inventing, creating and thinking among other variations?
  • Are you uninterested in becoming an expert in anything you love; does being an expert sound limiting or boring?
  • Is boredom like Kryptonite for you; it zaps your energy and enthusiasm?
  • Have others described you as shallow, flaky, confused, lazy, afraid of commitment, irresponsible or engaged in self-sabotage? Or perhaps you’ve concluded this about yourself?
If you answer “yes” to most or all of these questions, you may be a Scanner, a term coined by Barbara Sher, author of Refuse to Choose: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams; OR a Multipotentialite, a title recently made more popular by Emilie Wapnick in her 2015 Ted Talk, “Why Some of Us Don’t’ Have One True Calling,” OR a Renaissance Soul, the name included in the title of both of Margaret Lobenstine’s books.

During the show, I share some of my challenges and experiences that led me to believe something was wrong with me because I couldn’t focus on a single interest, or make a choice between my many interests. Throughout my childhood, into adulthood, and during college, I struggled internally with this.

  • Two of my core values include freedom and creativity.
  • I’m always reading several books at one time; reading one at a time until I complete each one would be so boring.
  • My desire to learn is insatiable and I love to explore and experiment.
  • I learn fast and I get bored easily if I don’t feel challenged.
  • I’ve always loved learning new things over taking a deep dive to become an expert.
  • Elementary school through high school I was all over the place with my interests and activities; when something no longer challenged me, I was on to the next set of interests.
  • My parents created a space for my brother and me to explore. Truth be told, my dad was just like me. He was always diving into a new project, exploring something new, creating something – I got it honestly.
  • When it was time to graduate from high school, I was so sad and cried, not because I was going to miss my friends, I would no longer be in an environment focused on learning.
  • Instead of college right out of high school, I chose missionary work instead and  spent the next eleven years taking on jobs of all kinds – deli clerk, restaurant server, I cleaned houses, I cleaned offices, I stripped grocery store floors, I was a house sitter, I babysat, I worked at a bank, I worked as an ambulance dispatcher, and the list goes on. I also took on office positions; at times juggling three jobs.
  • I also worked for several temp agencies, which allowed me to move around, learn about different companies and take on different office duties.
  • I’d become a jane-of-all-trades and I really loved it, but I constantly heard how unwise it was to jump around so much, I was told it was career suicide.
  • I was feeling the pressure to focus and pick a career; I decided to attend college as an adult learner. I thought I knew what I wanted to major in, but I soon got bored and changed my major, I changed it again, then I changed it again. I declared four different majors as an undergrad.
  • It was SO hard to settle on a major. I just wasn’t aware that I was wired differently.
  • One day, after having been in college for a couple of years, I sat down and counted all of the work positions I’d held and I listed more than 50.
  • Even after declaring Sociology as my major, I had a difficult time settling into a sub discipline, it felt impossible. Fortunately, this area of study allowed me to be curious about every aspect of society. When I learned there was a sociology of just about everything, it made me SO happy!!!
  • It was during my tenure as an undergrad that I was first introduced to Barbara Sher’s book, “I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was.” My life would never be the same after reading Chapter 6 – I Want Too Many Things; I’m All Over the Map. What I was experiencing had a name – scanner. It was as if the heavens opened up and the angels sang and celebrated with me.
  • There wasn’t anything wrong with me, I was just wired differently. I had to figure out how to fully embrace my newfound discovery until Barbara Sher published her next book a little over a decade later, “Refuse to Choose” – a handbook for scanners. I was thrilled that someone understood me, lots of others shared my challenges and understood me; she so beautifully captured there stories and experiences in this book.
  • When it was time to graduate with my bachelor’s degree, I wasn’t sad like I was when I graduated from high school, because the next week I on the road to Illinois to begin  my Master’s program.
  • I thought I’d stay planted in academia for the rest of my working life so I set my sights on completing a PhD.
  • Once I started teaching, it became clear that I wasn’t interested in investing the time and money in a PhD; it was not what I really wanted. I had nestled into a wonderful learning environment where I was interacting with students and teaching alongside many of my mentors – it was a sweet gig.
  • Like the true scanner that I am, after about five years of teaching, I felt an itch. It wasn’t that I’d learned everything I could know about sociology and teaching, I simply longed to be challenged in a different way, but I didn’t know why or how. So, I kept teaching, but the itch just got more and more intense.
  • Around that time, I was introduced to life coaching as a profession, which was fascinating. So, I dived in and secured my coaching certification. I was learning something new and life once again took on a brilliant luster. I was still teaching, but now I had something to complement and enhance my work in this area.
  • Today, as a business owner (which has worked out wonderfully for me as a scanner), I serve as a student mentor and coach; I also serve as a coach for Orange Duffel Bag where we focus on helping at-risk teens and adults in college succeed. I still dabble in some of my previous interests – I enjoy painting, drawing, and writing – I’ve self-published and plan to publish again. I’ve also been kicking around the possibility of learning another language, taking up the cello, and starting a flower and veggie garden. You know what, my interests are going to be all over the place until I stop breathing. What’s cool is that I accept all of this as who I am. I know this is how I’m wired and I now consider these characteristics strengths instead of weaknesses.
In her book, Sher noted that she named us scanners “because instead of diving down into the depths of an interest, we scanned the horizon for many interests.” There’s a chapter for each scanner type, there are several, not just one type.
Consider some notable scanners/multipotentialites/renaissance souls identified throughout history: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Sir Isaac Newton, Aristotle.
Emilie has created a home for multipotentialites @ ​puttylike.com/. There you can take a quiz, join The Puttytribe, sign up for her blog or check out her latest book, How to Be Everything: A Guide for Those Who (Still) Don’t Know What They Want to Be When They Grow Up, published in May of 2017. I still haven’t picked up my copy yet, but it’s next on my list!

Here’s my go to reference/recommendation list, in the order in which I read them:

I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It by Barbara Sher: This book was where she introduced the challenges associated with having multiple interests and gave us all a name. Chapter 6 was THE chapter for me. It would take her a little over a decade to publish the scanner handbook, her next resource . . . 

Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams by Barbara Sher:  This is THE resource that shifted everything for me. Once I learned that there were others out there AND a champion in our corner who herself is a scanner and grew up with the same challenges and frustrations, I was elated. For me, it resonated big time and has since become my quintessential resource when working with folks who can’t/won’t settle on one interest. 

The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One and The Renaissance Soul: How to Make Your Passions Your Life – A Creative and Practical Guide, both by Margaret Lobenstine: I love that she includes “life design” in the title, as it’s all about you making a decision and creating the worklife and life that suits you, and your multiple interests and strengths. I haven’t reviewed the second title, but my guess is that she provides even more creative alternatives and practical tips to guide you through your design process. 

The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling by Stephen Cope: Published in 2012, this, for me, was another rich resource with an interesting approach. He uses an ancient allegory about the path to dharma interwoven with the stories of some of our favorite luminaries (Walt Whitman, Jane Goodall, Harriet Tubman and others) and recent, real stories of people just like you who are on the path of self-discovery. Even though this title and its focus is one’s true calling, I read it from the perspective of someone who has multiple interests, and I allowed all of these stories and the author’s insights to further inspire and encourage me to fully embrace how I’m wired and to fully own and celebrate my multidimensional approach to work and life.


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