Refusal to ‘grow up’ and embracing your inner potential

Author, speaker and Scanner, Barbara Sher, whose interests are many.

There are some people who will never choose just one career. Nuala Woulfe reports on those who embrace their inner passions and potential

Find your dream job, follow your one true calling, new year, new career — they’re all mantras many of us repeat once Christmas festivities are a memory and the daily grind comes round again. However there’s one group of people for whom one career will never satisfy; they’re Scanners (people who tune into many life frequencies) Renaissance people, Generalists or Multipotentialites.

These are ‘Jack of all Trades’ who refuse to choose one career because choosing goes against their internal wiring. Unfortunately, they’re often blighted by guilt or paralysis because they don’t know ‘what they want to be when they grow up’ even though they’re well into adulthood. Society often misunderstands them; sometimes labelling them childish, irresponsible, job hoppers or flaky.

Writer Barbara Sher, herself a Scanner, invented the term to explain people who’ve so many interests that it’s impossible for them to dedicate their lives to one, or even a few, and through her many books, her life-coaching, conferences and talks she’s spread the message to Scanners worldwide that not only are they perfectly ‘normal’ but they can be helped manage their time and learn to devise strategies to finance their many interests.

In Sher’s ground-breaking book, What do I do when I want to do Everything, she explains that it’s only really since the middle of the 20th century that ‘specialists’ have come to the fore in nearly every discipline or profession and generalists been discouraged. Renaissance men and women like Leonardo de Vinci or Benjamin Franklyn or Elizabeth I and Hollywood actress/inventor Hedy Lamar were not only acceptable but were lauded for their multi abilities.

“Scanners love to read and write, to fix and invent things, to design projects and businesses, to cook or sing … a Scanner might be fascinated with learning to play bridge but once she gets good at it, she might never play it again.”

Sher explains to the Irish Examiner. It’s the quitting, often at the top of their game or close to it that can unsettle bosses and family but Scanners, who are comfortable being Scanners, rarely measure success by money or other people’s opinions. In her books Sher helps people identify what kind of Scanners they are and how to structure their lives and environment to get as much done as possible.

Some Scanners find the ‘good enough job’ perhaps working as a teacher and using the summers to do whatever their passion is at that time, it could be travelling or giving surf lessons in Hawaii. Sher says gardeners who work the spring/summer might give ski lessons in the winter. Some Scanners cannot do such a clean split and have to work on multiple projects at the same time. For them it might be an hour of writing, followed by giving a Zumba class, followed by watching a Youtube video on learning to paint. These Scanners have several strings to their bow which they utilise to earn income or do just for fun.

Other Scanners are serial freelancers or find umbrellas jobs such as working in journalism in order to explore multiple avenues which they then write about until something else piques their interest.

Sher gives tips on how to organise work environments so Scanners can switch from one interest to another quickly, it can be even as practical as having all materials in one chest or drawer so you don’t waste time setting up every different activity.

Describing herself as a multipotentialite (MP) Emilie Wapnick of is an author (How to be Everything) and Ted speaker who’s been reassuring generalists that it’s their time to thrive, that they’re normal, are part of a tribe and that society needs them now more than ever to be creative and solve problems.

Aauthor, speaker and multipotentialite, Emilie Wapnick
Aauthor, speaker and multipotentialite, Emilie Wapnick

“It’s easy to see multipotentialism as an affliction that you need to overcome, but MPs have strengths. Fast magazine identified adaptability for individuals and organisations as the single most important skill to develop in order to thrive in the 21st century,” says Wapnick. “MPs who combine two or more fields always create something new at the intersection, innovation happens.”

Wapnick adds MPs are rapid learners and are used to, and are unafraid of, being beginners because they’ve been beginners so many times in the past and are able to transfer skills across disciplines.

“Even if you end up quitting something you might apply that knowledge to something else in the future in a way you couldn’t have anticipated. MPs can morph into whatever they need to be in a given situation and we’ve a lot of problems in the world that need creative, out of the box thinkers,” she says.

While stressing that there’s nothing wrong with specialists, “some of the best teams consist of MPs and specialists,” society has to stop trying to make MPs more like their specialist peers.

“To Multipotentialites I say, embrace your inner passions and follow your curiosity down all those rabbit holes for an authentic, happier life.”

Tipperary man, Adrian O’Connell is one Scanner totally happy in his own skin. Running his own DVD and games store in Nenagh, O’Connell also plays in rock band Beautiful Apes and is writing two books in different genres.

‘I get bored easily, I’ve lots of ideas in my head at any one time, but I don’t understand people who just chooses one thing, I could never do that,’ he laughs.


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