Interview with a Scanner, Advice for other Scanners

I never really intended this blog to feature a lot of posts and advice specifically for scanners, but as I am about to do a presentation on the idea later this week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and research.

Last week, I was interviewed by Tony Dalton, a member of the Scanner community. He asked me a variety of questions, and I recorded the interview, so here is a consolidated recap of the questions, and my answers:

Q. When did you discover you were a scanner?

A. Last year (2013), in August. A friend of mine was reading Barbara Sher’s book “Refuse to Choose”, where the scanner term was coined (to my knowledge). She told me a bit about the concept and I started googling, and my life was forever changed.

When you’re struggling with something and then you find out “it’s a thing”, then realize you’re not the only one and that the others like you have probably figured out how to make something of it so you just have to find them, find their answers, strategies and resources utilized.

Q. What do you think are the biggest struggles for Scanners?

A. Finding answers, resources and tips. We face many unique problems with our unique sets of interests and inclinations, so we often have to find our own unique answers as well, which can be hard. I want to help other scanners (and polymaths) find resources, and help them find an expert or guide or mentor.

My family has mostly not been understanding or especially supportive (with a couple exceptions) but I’ve pressed on anyway.

Q. How does your family react to the scanner side of things?

A. It doesn’t come up a lot, usually just once in a while if someone asks me how a particular hobby or side project is going and I tell them I’m not doing it anymore, they’ll be confused, and ask “are you still doing [day job]?” and I always re-assure them yes my job is stable and I’m probably sticking with that, and then they’re more willing to say “ok, good” and then encourage me to “do whatever makes me happy” outside of that.

My friends sometimes think it’s cool and inspiring to see someone doing as much as I do.

Actually, when I was younger, I liked a lot of obscure bands or things that my friends weren’t necessarily interested in going with me to see or do, so I kind of had no choice but to go by myself to get the experience I wanted, or not go alone and not get that experience. Eventually I got used to going to stuff by myself and now I kind of prefer it, so I have no trouble doing all kinds of different hobbies and projects and things solo. The important thing for me is to experience things one way or another, so I know if I like them and want to do them again, or so I can learn something about myself.

Q. Have you found it hard to bridge the gaps between all your different interests and activities?

A. I’m actually finding that having a very stable day job works well because it allows me to better handle the chaos of being a scanner outside of work. Sometimes my job is boring, but sometimes I overdo it on the scanner stuff too, so it’s all about balance.

I’m also finding success in that I have several hobbies that are multidisciplinary, so they allow me to use a range of different skills (and parts of my brain) which is really satisfying.

Q. What do you consider the most valuable part of the puttytribe community?

A. The huddles (though I’ve only been to a couple) can be really helpful, but perhaps just the ability to ask a whole bunch of other multipods (short for “multipotentialites”) at once when you’re having a struggle or doubting something or looking for advice or tips, or even just trying to figure out more aspects of yourself to be more productive, having a collective sounding board is probably most useful for me. Of course the community pools a lot of resources as well.

Q. What resources have been most helpful to you as a multipod?

A. Language tools definitely were (thanks mostly to reddit but also google), but also the advent of easy drag and drop web-platforms (such as Weebly) and sites like soundcloud where you can host music or podcasts, of course podcasts themselves, and youtube videos.

Basically, resources that mean you don’t have to learn to do as much, yourself, from scratch. Existing platforms that allow you to just start getting down to business.

Q. Biggest challenge as a scanner?

A. Self-awareness and thinking style. These take time to tune into and to really get a firm handle on, but once you do, I have found I learn much faster and more efficiently.

Thinking style is the more important one, I think self-awareness will come somewhat naturally (but you can also consciously hone it), but understanding under what conditions you are most comfortable learning and facilitating that as much as possible is just a great start.

[I am avoiding saying “support your learning style” because based on some recent research, learning styles don’t actually exist. I’ll be doing a post on that soon]

While I advise to take them with a grain of salt, personality type tests (such as Myers-Briggs) can be a good way to start gaining self-awareness and also learning how you absorb information and experiences most naturally as well. Take em and re-take em again later (a year or so apart can be decent for checking progress and seeing if any telling patterns or trends emerge).

Also, being curious and motivated to find solutions and efficiencies. If you find you learn one way, that’s fine, but if you combine two styles or try a new method, you might get surprisingly positive results. Depending on how tired I am, I know what mediums I can handle and absorb. I can still learn when tired, I just have to use a different method. And often, learning something new and interesting can perk me up and give me a second wind.

Once you find out about it [the concept of a scanner], and learn of some of the people past and present who were/are scanners and what they have accomplished, I think if you’re ambitious enough it can motivate you to push yourself harder and really understand you have more potential than you may have even realized or believed and why not try to see how far you can take it?

Q. Tips for becoming more self aware and learning about yourself?

Write and keep journals. They don’t have to be public, but if you “think out loud” where your friends (or even strangers) can read and ponder it, you can get some useful feedback, or even just find out that you’ve inspired someone else. It’s also super useful for looking back to see your progress. I blow myself away just at reading things I wrote 1 or 2 years ago. Five years ago and it’s like I don’t even recognize my own thoughts and feelings anymore, it seems like someone else.

And of course, be honest with yourself, like truly. Don’t be afraid to admit things that don’t make you feel so good, because that just gives you a change to examine them and address them. I grew up homophobic, racist and otherwise intolerant, and I’ve done a lot of thinking, asking myself questions and analyzing my feelings to figure out what seems right. But it doesn’t have to be that extreme, just trying to make the point that honesty and willingness to deal with icky feelings is really important. Some stuff I figure out by how I feel and it’s hard to describe the process but I have learned how to understand what certain feelings mean and what my body or mind are trying to suggest to me.

It’s OK to doubt yourself, the key is to finding the true core of the doubt, insecurity or fear. If you can find the true core, you can examine if it’s worthy of your time, energy and distraction or not. The more of these that you work out, the less burdened by doubts you will be.

Also learn to listen to both your head and your gut and don’t always go along with only one of them. Also also, most changes don’t happen overnight, just take it day by day, week by week.

One of the cool things that comes from being a scanner is opening up to more possibilities in a positive way. Not that you have to say yes to everything, but perhaps instead of being crippled by indecision or option paralysis, you can focus on “yes, I get to try all these cool things, eventually!”.

Q. Tips for other scanners?

I think until you know what a scanner is and how to manage it, you can get easily overwhelmed and stressed because you have no order, no structure, no guide, no plan. Once you realize what it’s all about and how to organize yourself and plan things a bit more, I think it’s easier to settle down and know “I’ll get to such and such in time”.

Try to gauge how long/how much energy a project will take and make a value decision.

It was also confusing for me for a long time because I’m both creative and analytical and it took me a long time to understand how to work the two in concert and not ignore/starve one or over-use/drain one. Balance is super important!

I’m a planner but I’ve learned there can definitely be happy accidents. In the last few years there’ve been a few instances where circumstances have changed beyond my control, just long enough for me to actually notice some benefits or some aspects that actually worked better or suited me or taught me something about myself, and I would never have learned those things if I’d had the choice to keep things how I previously liked them.

We have google, and wikipedia, and reddit, and youtube, and podcasts, and scanner blogs. But it takes time to learn what sites/channels/shows you like best and fit your style. It takes time to find speakers or writers or just sources out there that inspire and resonate with you, so go look for them. The more you find, the faster, better and more enjoyably you learn and evolve. And the more resources they will likely lead you to. Find and assemble the pieces of a scanner toolkit that works for you.

Write about what worked and how it worked to help others find what works for them.

Q. What are your current scanner projects?

I’ve got a good balance and variety in my life right now with 3 main pursuits – my interview podcast, writing, and working on public speaking efforts. I see a theme here in retrospect – learning, communication and both drawing from multiple sources but also using multiple skills to execute all these things. The podcast requires an array of technical and creative skills, and the writing and public speaking stuff focuses on learning, research and communication. I also get ideas from those areas that spill over into the other interests I have, such as music, photography, design…

Read about the insights from Tony’s other interviews here.

Care to share your thoughts?