Someone found my blog by using that search term, and I was admittedly a little sad that I don’t really have a good answer for that here. For those not in the know, a scanner is a modern name for a “polymath” – someone who has a lot of interests and skills and isn’t content to do just one thing with their time.
I tried to start my own business in college (a low-maintenance recording studio in my mom’s basement), but I didn’t realize that at that point I completely lacked the necessary social and business skills to be successful. I folded the business 3 months later feeling like it was one of the stupidest things I had ever attempted, and told myself I would never do that again. That was in 2007.
In the last couple of years, as I’ve been “working for the man”, there have of course been times where I’ve longed for a bit more freedom and have felt my entrepreneurial spirit be rekindled enough that I’ve questioned whether or not I might actually want to try again. I feel like I know much better now, and have many of the skills I lacked back then.
Can I be my own boss? I kind of am, right now. I give myself tasks and projects and prioritize and execute as I see fit. Kind of like “I want all these things to happen or get done. I don’t care how you do it, self, but figure it out”.
But I feel like I am bad at freelancing. I was a freelance bookkeeper briefly a few years back and it was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. I find that working style of always running around between clients and having to remember details for so many different projects very stressful and draining.
But it’s weird because but in a way I am freelancing between my various unpaid hobby projects, and while that can be tiring, it generally isn’t stressful. And I guess it’s not hard to remember the details of different projects when they are my projects. There’s also a big difference between freelancing in an admin role and freelancing in a creative role. At least I think there is, and I think I could be a lot better at one than the other. I think I could be a great contract maintenance guy (if I had the skills).
To be honest though, now that I’ve once again rebooted my interview podcast, I do feel like I would enjoy being a freelance radio interviewer/journalist (except I am pretty sure I would never get paid for that without some actual credentials). That’s the closest thing to true freelancing that I do presently. I decide who I want to interview, I reach out to them, I schedule and facilitate the interview, manage the tech, moderate the conversation, make production notes, edit and produce the episode, upload it, update the feed and promote. I really enjoy that I am part of the entire process, it really makes me feel accomplished.
So part of me wants to freelance (or rather, it would be awesome to get some kind of compensation for my labours of love), but I think I am only capable of functioning in that style/routine under certain circumstances/in certain fields. And of course there’s the issue of “real-world” deadlines. I do have some deadlines – I recently volunteered to help host and moderate a monthly discussion group for a non-profit, so for that I have to do research and prepare a topic with questions and supporting information. But it is a loose/soft deadline, and maybe that’s why it serves more as a healthy motivation than a stressful deterrent.
I also admit I still do a lot of things last minute, despite being one of the most punctual people you’ll ever meet. That’s sort of a way to trick myself with a self-instituted deadline, but the result is the same – when I need to I can produce the output on short notice. I guess this allows me to relax more between those pockets of crunch?
For the moment, I am still avoiding taking on too much responsibility by not trying (very hard) to turn any of my scanner projects into paying projects. I think as soon as money is involved, the stakes get much higher and it stops being fun (thus I no longer want to do it). I’m conducting my life as a freelancer/entrepreneur to trick myself into functioning like one, but without the financial reward. I do consider myself very fortunate that I don’t hate my day job, and that I have found a very good balance between it and all the things I do for fun but free.
So I guess I can’t really answer the question posed, I can only answer it for myself, because I know me and what works for me. However, to attempt to answer, I would say you should definitely try. Read some books on entrepreneurship (for instance, “The E Myth”, which is pretty good, though I do have a couple issues with some of the wisdom/advice presented in that book), and you could always go request informational interviews with someone who does what you are interested in doing (that’s pretty much why I started my podcast last year).
If I hadn’t tried and failed so hard back in college, I wouldn’t have the hindsight to realize all the gaps in my skillset that I’ve filled and all the totally new skills I’ve picked up as well. I have a really good idea of how I am useful and what I am capable of. I believe I have the necessary skills to be a freelancer, the question is more can I find an area of work where it gels?
So reader, I’m not sure if this answers your question, but I hope it helps at least a little bit. Some people start businesses before they’re ready, and the pressures force them to learn fast and get good enough to make it work. Others will try and fail several times before they find the right thing that works. It’s funny I’ve heard more than one artistic friend say they are “broken in just the right way” to do the thing they love to do, even though the pay isn’t great, the hours are long and it’s physically challenging sometimes. So in part, it comes down to “how bad do you want to do X thing?”. I want to do my various hobbies bad enough that I do them regardless of financial gain, I just happen to be fortunate enough to have a “day job” that I don’t hate, that can pay the bills.
UPDATE – April 13, 2014. I was just reading a discussion on Quora called “As a startup founder, do you ever think you might have had a happier life as an employee?“. The top answer (As of this writing) is “Yes”. Several reasons are given, but here is the part that struck me:
Being a successful founder rewires your brain. It makes you far sharper, far more insightful, far more able to understand the whole of how a business works. But it does change Happiness. If you aren’t ready for that, don’t do it.
I find just being a scanner/polymath has had the same effect. I feel much sharper, I learn quickly… and I notice problems, flaws and deficits much faster as well. I would suggest that for each thing I “fix”, I find at least 5 more things that are broken or need to be tweaked. If I started my own business, I would probably become forced to specialize more, and that is really what I am trying to avoid.
This is part of why I love reading other points of view on some subjects, because they may provide me with the perspective I need to really make the choice that is best for me.