Do you feel like you’re drifting aimlessly in life, unable to commit your attention to just one thing, because that would mean missing out too many other exciting opportunities?
Do you think you’re great at starting projects, but don’t have enough focus or perseverance to finish them?
Do you get easily excited about new things and just as easily bored once you have tried them?
I do, and my awareness of this trait doesn’t make my job search any easier. I feel like I need to try everything in order to choose, and the time is running out. Why am I so scatterbrained?
In this post about INFP career struggles, I wrote about my doubts with regard to choosing the right path.
The struggle is real.
What Is Wrong With Me?
I was blessed with parents who provided me with the perfect conditions for self-discovery and exploration. They didn’t sign me up for all those activities like today’s parents do – the innitiative was entirely mine. So, by the end of elementary school, I tried tennis, acrobatic modern dance, karate, maths, speed reading, English, arts, journalism, horse riding, more arts, singing in a choir, sailing, and theater. Not at once, of course.
Later on, I added to the list Spanish, Portuguese, photography, and climbing. I just felt I needed to try them all. Some didn’t last more than a few weeks, but many activities kept my attention longer.
I thought that growing up would make choosing easier.
It didn’t. I kept trying out different professions and jobs to find out what I could do for a living. As a result, I’ve become a Jack of all trades, master of none, with a rich and very inconsistent CV, and without the slightest idea about what career to pursue. By the age of 28, I have already had two major career shifts and tried several other unrelated jobs, only to find out that I don’t want to do those things anymore in my life.
I wish I could live 200 years, or had many lives, or be 20 people instead of one, or possess a time-changer, so I could try everything I want, from kitesurfing and basket weaving to design and upholstery.
My inner child rebels when my inner adult questions the sense of pursuing yet another project, and I can’t help feeling like a failure. At school, willingness to explore was a great advantage. But in adult life, it feels more of a liability.
What is my calling, then?
Over time, and having tried plenty of things, I found out that I want to be a farrier, permaculture farmer, seafarer, dressage rider, bee keeper, traveler, photographer, blogger, and T-shirt designer.
I don’t mean either – or.
I want to be all these things AT THE SAME TIME. Like a one-man band.
It’s ridiculous and incredibly frustrating. Soon, I will hit 30, and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized I wasn’t alone in this struggle. We are told that the best (and only?) way to succeed is by finding one’s passion and pursuing it till the end of one’s life; that only by specializing in a very narrow area we can actually achieve what is believed to be success. True as it may seem, I don’t think it applies to INFPs at all.
In her book Refuse To Choose, Barbara Sher calls this kind of people “scanners”. Others have called us Renaissance people, da Vinci personalities, generalists, polymaths, multipotentialites, jacks-of-all-trades, eclectics, dilettantes or flakes.
I prefer “scanners”.
Who is a “Scanner”?
Unlike the people who specialize in very narrow areas, scanners are individuals characterized by “intense curiosity about numerous, unrelated subjects”. They’re endlessly inquisitive explorers who don’t want to commit to just one area, giving up all the other interests.
Being a scanner does not equal having an attention deficit disorder, even though the two may co-exist. Scanners simply crave knowledge and want to understand how things and the world around them work.
If you’re not sure if that applies to you, listen to Barbara Sher talk about scanners.
The INFP personality fits the scanner definition wonderfully. With Ne as our auxiliary function, INFPs see endless possibilities to everything. Ne is the driving force behind creativity, and the reason we crave novelty and get bored so easily (at least, until we find THE thing, I believe.). Ne is also the source of INFP’s childlike wonder of the world.
Having said that, it’s not a surprise that we are so unhappy when forced to fit in the world, where you either specialize in something or fail. As great imagie thinkers who don’t pay that much attention to details, INFPs are often criticized for being scatterbrained and unable to commit to just one narrow area.
But, what if our ability to be passionate about so many things was actually an asset?
Can Scanners Be Successful?
Good news! I’ve learn from Sher’s book that there is no obligation to specialize in anything – the preference of specialists over erudites it’s a relatively recent fashion, and in case of scanners, it goes completely against our nature. Let’s be honest: I were to dedicate my life to just one thing, I would probably get bored to death.
It is possible to achieve tremendous success as a scanner. The list of famous and undoubtedly successful scanners includes Steve Jobs (who revolutionized not only computing, but also mobile phones, music industry and design), Leonardo da Vinci (artist and inventor, the original Renaissance Man) and Benjamin Franklin (writer, publisher, inventor, statesman among other things).
It is also possible to choose a career and projects in which your talent and love for learning is an asset, not a liability. I learned about careers aimed at researching and providing information, management tools one can use to organize unfinished projects and harness your creativity, and ways to avoid paralysis by analysis and reconcile making a living with pursuing your multiple passions. So there seems to be some hope, after all 😉
Though this be madness, yet there’s method in it, Shakespeare (an alleged INFP) would say.
Tips For Scanners
Here’s a bunch of advice I’ve drawn from the book Refuse to Choose.
- Keep a notebook and always carry it with you, so whenever a brilliant idea comes to your mind, you can seize it and save it for later. One day, you may actually be ready to apply it in a meaningful way. You never know.
- Organize your ideas. Write a whole list of things you’re interested in and projects you have in mind. You will probably realize that they’re not so many and are somehow related. Grouping them will help you recognize some pattern and decide which to prioritize.
- Trust your intuition and do what you want to do. Let go of things that don’t make your eyes shine. I realized that for feeling intuitives, reason is not necessarily a good advisor. This life is the only chance you have to pursue your dreams, so don’t waste on what won’t give you fulfillment.
- When you feel like you’re done with a project, move on. Even if you leave it (un)finished, it’s never a waste of time.
- Consider finding a Good Enough Job. It may not be your dream job, but if it doesn’t make you suffer, the team is fun to work with, and you get a decent salary that pays for your passions – it may be THE solution.
Scanners, You Are Enough
Some of us don’t have just one true calling, and there is nothing wrong with it. In her TED talk, Emilie Wapnick, the author of How To Be Everything, proves that being a scanner is not a disease or a disorder to be cured, but a unique and invaluable talent.
As a scanner aka multipotentialite, you have access to many points of intersection of different fields, which leads to innovation. You’ve been a beginner so many times that starting from scratch yet another time doesn’t frighten you. The skills you acquire in the process are often transferable between different fields of expertise, and that in a fast changing world makes you extremely adaptable. And the truth is, very few people stick to their initial career, nowadays.
Also, generalists like you make great team members for specialists because they provide the kind of insight the latter are not capable of. Working together, we may accomplish even greater things.
Trying to fit a square peg in a round hole is pointless. You are a creative soul. You can only make a difference in the world if you embrace your scanner personality and do something you’re absolutely passionate about (even if it doesn’t last a lifetime). Let your Ne explore the endless possibilities that this world has to offer, celebrate your talents, and share your enthusiasm and projects with the world… This is your life purpose!