Barbara Sher’s ‘Refuse To Choose’ – A Liberating Game-Changer For Those Who Want It All

‘Refuse To Choose’ by career / lifestyle coach Barbara Sher has become a guiding light among a group of people known as Scanners: a multi-talented, curious bunch who have been suppressing their unique gifts for far too long... Read on to find out more about Scanners and how, if you are one, this book could change your life.

‘Follow your passion’
‘Find your calling’
‘What’s the one thing that makes you come alive?’

Does your heart sink when you hear phrases like this? Do you feel a rising sense of panic? Maybe a little shame? Chances are, you might be a Scanner.

Some of us feel as though we have fifty ‘callings’. We’re passionate about at least twelve subjects at a time, and the idea of doing only one thing for the rest of our lives is a nightmare. Sound like you? Welcome to the fold! Sher calls us Scanners.

Scanners, she explains, are genetically wired to be interested in many things, often at the same time. They are usually multi-talented: able to turn their hand to a range of tasks and activities and do well in all of them. They frequently have several projects on the go, and new interests and curiosities pop up on a regular basis.

However, conventional wisdom dictates that a jack of all trades is a master of none. We’re taught that dropping an old project (unfinished) to pick up a new one (or three) is a weakness, and that our enjoyment of lots of different subjects is a sign of a scatty brain and a lack of discipline. Quickly, we learn that our way of interacting with the world is wrong, and our Scanner tendencies are negative traits to be ashamed of and overcome.

For a Scanner, Barbara Sher’s Refuse To Choose is a an exhilarating permission slip to be wholly and unashamedly yourself. She talks us through the classic characteristics of Scanners, celebrating our innovation and curiosity, and reveals the unique gifts of a Scanner’s approach to life. With references throughout the book to well known Scanners (ever heard of Leonardo da Vinci? or Aristotle?), Refuse to Choose is a handbook for doing everything you love.

Sher identifies the particular challenges faced by Scanners, and provides readers with simple and effective tools to overcome them. Some of these tools (such as the daily Micro-Nervous-Breakdown) seem a little incongruous with most of Sher’s highly practical, down-to-earth advice, but many people will appreciate her well-rounded approach to supporting Scanners of all persuasions.

Our top takeaways:

  • You stop when you do because you got what you came for: Don’t worry if you lose interest in a project halfway through. In the same way as a bee stays at a flower only as long as it needs to gather its nectar, Scanners stick at a project until they’ve got their nectar, or their ‘Scanner’s Reward’.  This could be a sense of discovery, acclaim, a level of expertise, or creating something that didn’t exist before. Identifying your particular Reward allows you to focus, leaving projects feeling satisfied and before boredom and frustration sets in. 
  • Remind yourself how much time you really have: It’s easy to become paralysed in the face of dozens of interests and projects. With such a mountain of potential in front of us, Scanners often end up frozen, taking no action on any of the things we want to explore. Overcome this paralysis by using a Scanner’s Calendar: a two-year wall calendar where you can plan out all the things you want to do and learn. Knowing that you’ve set aside time for each interest means you can relax and focus on one at a time, reducing what Sher calls ‘Scanner’s Panic’.
  • Use a Scanner’s Daybook to record your ideas (and their offshoots): A Scanner’s Daybook is a notebook designed to capture your whirlwind of thoughts and ideas, and explore them as fully as you like without committing to them in practice. Write down each idea in its entirety, and record any tangents your mind heads down on another page, always returning to the original idea once you’ve made a note of the tangent. No more despair at another stroke of genius escaping you while your attention is on something else.