I sit down, cup of tea and laptop in front of me, and I start tapping away. Usually I’ll begin with the novel I’ve been writing for about five years, thrashing out a scene between two central characters, which, invariably, I will later remove from the manuscript. So far, so good. Half way through a verbal outburst by my protagonist I’ll put the book script aside and start scribbling an outline for a new article idea. Within minutes my head will take a 90-degree turn and I will start writing a blog entry.
Pretty soon, my eye will catch on the sewing machine sat redundant in the corner, detritus of an unmade cushion on the table surrounding it. I’ll suddenly feel the urge to make something. Only, half an hour into this new project and my interest will turn again to something new, perhaps the furniture painting. I have collected a number of pieces of old wood furniture, which are stored in various random spots around my small home taking up valuable space. I am in the process of transforming them into something fresh and chic but now they stand half-finished, waiting for my interest in them to revive.
You see, whatever I happen to be doing, it’s not long before I find the idea of doing something else more appealing; maybe gardening, maybe painting. Around this time, I have to collect my child from pre-school and so I will have a rant to my good friend Word for Mac about the frustrations of motherhood. Sewing, card-making, and painting – it can all feel a bit overwhelming when I’m faced with the detritus of my indecision from the day before. I’m up to my ears in the debris of half-finished craft projects, decorating projects and other such activities.
Trouble is, it’s not just my hobbies, my career too has taken on a similar lack of structure. I feel like I’m living life in a constant state of flux, repeatedly being swept away by some new passion, which has never lasted long enough for me to achieve anything. I’ve had so many vastly different career aspirations that my brothers ask me, each time they see me, which career ambition I’m cultivating this week. I gently remind them of all those famous people who started off with one career only to completely change tack and head off in another direction? Leonardo da Vinci was an engineer, painter, architect, geographer, palaeontologist, biologist, zoologist, and writer – wow, what a CV! And what about Mark Twain, who went through several different careers; typesetter and printer, riverboat pilot on the Mississippi, gold miner, journalism and ultimately to novelist, speaker, and investor. Where would we be if they had stuck to their original career? We’d be devoid of their inspiration and talent, I tell my brothers, not entirely convinced myself.
Famous people aside, I know I’m not alone. According to Barbara Sher, author of Refuse to Choose there is a tribe of us so-called ‘scanners’, each fumbling along from one project to another, never quite deciding what we want to do, and hoping our dream job will come along and plonk itself in our lap. We’ve been called many names; serial starters, scanners, dabblers…one friend even said I was flaky!
We are always being encouraged to finish what we start. ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’ goes the saying. We are told to keep motivated and stick to our goals, we have to ‘get over the bumps in the road’ to reach our destination, and as Seth Godin says when things get a bit tricky, we need to get over ‘the dip’.
Then again, aren’t we also being told that variety is the spice of life? If we stuck to all the clichéd sayings it would be difficult to know whether we were coming or going.
If we only ever stick to one thing at a time, then wouldn’t life be a little bit dull? My husband calls me a book tart because I flip from one book to another, rarely getting past the first three or four chapters. In my defence I feel as though I’ve got what I came for, and life is too short with just too many books to read to stick to one, right to the very end even if I’m itching to get into another, simply because it’s the done thing.
The truth is that I am desperate to find my passion, to find that one thing that puts me in the ‘flow’. On occasion, after the discovery of a new hobby I will declare that this is the ONE, this is the career I was born to do and I resolve to stick to it until my dying day. The very next morning I am on the hunt for something new to keep my interest. Barbara Sher says that us ‘scanners’ are born learners who love trying new things and who need variety. She says that scanners typically are often torn between needing variety and wanting to be experts in one field.
The way I see it I’m trying out lots of different things because I have a curious mind. Ok I will never be a brain surgeon (although the idea is rather tempting) because I could never stick that long to one particular career aspiration, but I know that with each and every different thing I try I am learning something new. Who knows, maybe one day I will find a career that incorporates all my different and various interests.
People like me were once called ‘Jack of all trades’ and ok, so we may also be ‘master of none’ but we’re versatile and adaptable, turning our hands to more than one endeavour as the need for solution arises. Having a wide variety of experience enables us to come up with better solutions for problems and as the rhyme goes ‘Often times better than a master of one’.
Perhaps I should be a little easier on myself. As suggested by Barbara Sher I now have a timetable that allows me to try different things for a certain amount of time before I am legitimately allowed to drop it and start something else, I am giving myself permission to be curious about other hobbles, and to give in to my need to chop and change with the weather. When I lose interest in something I will now consider that maybe I’ve got what I came for, I’ve completed my mission and now I can move on, guilt free. I need to see my home, not as a disorderly storage space crammed with unfinished projects but as a workspace for my creative mind.
I try to imagine how my life would be if I wasn’t a ‘scanner’. Would I be as curious about everything? Would I be happy as the master of only one trade, knowing the ins and outs and the ups and downs of one particular subject? No, I can’t think of anything worse in fact, it would bore me silly. No I’ll stick to my multiple projects.
Are you a serial starter? if so, I’d like to know your thoughts.
One thing crosses my mind – maybe I’m not as flaky as I believed, after all I managed to finish this art…