From Scattered to Scanner (UPDATED)

UPDATE (4/8/19):

Since writing this post, I discovered something new about my enneagram number.  I thought about writing a new post, but every time I sat down to write, it came out all wrong and narcissistic.  I suppose the original post was also narcissistic (as are most of my writings), but I wanted to find some way of introducing myself, and also to write about how significant it was for me to discover these facets of my personality.  They explain so much of my past and help to direct me into the future.

That said, I went back and re-read the descriptions of the 9 types in the Enneagram, and when I landed on the description of Type-9, it resonated like a hallelujah chorus.  I had been having difficulty trying on the Type-4.  I’m supposed to be artistic, a good writer and poet, and be self-expressive; however besides a few children’s books that aren’t even up to my own standards, I haven’t produced any valuable works of art, I don’t wear skinny jeans, and I don’t have any tattoos.  I believed myself to be an artist at heart, but the truth I was living out didn’t reflect that belief.  When I read about 9’s getting lost in fantasies about themselves to escape the reality of their situations, I knew, intuitively, that I was a 9 who fantasized about being a 4.  It all made sense.

9’s deny both themselves and their own needs, and they deny the world around them.  They often get lost in fantasies, or escape to fantasies, in order to cope with that denial.  Once I became aware of this, and of the fact that being “mindful” (or perhaps a better term would be “present”) in every situation is the only remedy; I discovered just how difficult it was to stay present and not daydream or lose myself in idealistic fantasies about my life.  My wife often complains that I “check out” at dinner.

“People are talking to you,” she says, “and it’s like you don’t even hear them.”


As for being a “Scanner” or a “multipotentialite,” while I don’t want to discredit those notions as being untrue, I no longer think they are true of me.  I think I was, in fact, just scattered, and I needed to come back to reality.  All those scanner-thoughts were simply flights of fancy.  The reality is that I have a toilet to clean, a floor to vacuum, a History reading to catch up to with my son, a letter to write to my wife who is starving for my attention, and laundry to fold.  Yes, it’s fun to learn piano and jam on my guitar, but I don’t need to follow every random thought that goes through my brain.  Some of those thought aren’t worth trusting.

Take, for example, the photography story I shared below in the original post.  The photographer I spoke with was describing all the real-world things she did to become a photographer: she worked for the police department, and for her local paper, she took college classes, purchased the gear she needed, practiced with it.  In short, she was doing stuff to learn a new skill and then she went out and did something with it.

I, on the other hand, spend hours and sometimes days daydreaming about being a photographer.  I think so much about it, that I eventually become overwhelmed by what it would take to be there.  Then I think about how limiting it would be to give myself up to that gear and all those hours and years of practice in a single field.  I think maybe I should explore some other area of interest.  This is the “scanner” part of my brain, but the whole time it ignores the reality – or, more accurately, I am ignoring the reality around me.  I’m not doing anything.  That’s the personality flaw I need to overcome through minute-by-minute practice in learning to ignore these fantasies, focus, and do what needs to be done.

Attention to reality is important.  It’s vital to my sense of meaning, because the reality is also that I believe in Jesus and that what he said in the gospels was true.  I make no apologies for this.  It’s just who I am.  I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t have the family I have around me, if I didn’t believe it.  Part of my reality is living under that authority, and I can’t do that by surfing the waves of my imagination all the time.  I have to take a breath, and bring my brain back to the real people and situations that are right here in front of me and apply what I read in the bible to that reality in order to be whole and to let my life have meaning to those around me.

As for the old post, I didn’t want to just delete my old post and replace it with this one.  What I wrote was written by me at a certain time, and for a reason that mattered to me at that time.  I regret deleting my older blog posts from this site, and I don’t want to live with any more regrets.



A while back, I read a book by Barbara Sher titled Refuse to Choose, in which she outlines her theory on a kind of person whom she calls a “Scanner.”  Scanners, roughly defined, are professional learners.  By this, I do not mean the stereotypical teacher/professor that you might see in a University, although some of them are probably Scanners, too.  Scanners are people who cannot identify with just one “thing” in life.  Her clearest example is Benjamin Franklin, who was, among many other things, an inventor, a writer, a politician, a philanthropist, and – lest we should forget – a true ladies-man while he lived in France.  He was what we call a “Renaissance Man” or a “Jack-of-all-Trades.”  Scanners are like this.

Unfortunately, many of us are blocked Scanners, in the same way that Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way describes the “blocked artist.” We’re Scanners, but we don’t realize we are Scanners or even what that means because the culture we live in provides more resources to people who dive deeply into just one subject.  Think about the modern way in which we specialize in particular areas.  Each of us must have our specific part to play on the great industrial line of society. Or, on another level, we tend to look up to and even celebrate those who focus on just one thing.  The people who make discoveries in their areas of expertise receive high acclaim for their accomplishments.  They, after all, have spent their entire lives studying _____ and now they have invented or created this great thing – all their effort having payed off.  The rock-star.  The famous actor.  The celebrity.  The famous intellectual.  The successful artist.  The doctor, the lawyer, the fireman, the whatever…  All of these people have spent (“sacrificed,” the word literally means to “make sacred,” or to set apart for a special purpose) their lives studying their discipline.

Scanners can be any of these things too, but they tend to have a lot of extra interests on the side.  A doctor who also writes novels on the side (or at least arranges for ghost writers to write them), might be a Scanner, for example.  But the cardiologist who studies neurology on the side is probably not a Scanner.  Scanners grow bored easily, so our interests tend to be very widespread and eclectic.

I wish I had known I was a scanner back in high school or college.  My life often felt very confusing, and I’ve spent the majority of it feeling more scattered than anything else.  I would meet someone, say a professional photographer, and I would ask them, “how did you become a photographer?”

“My parents bought me my first camera when I was fifteen,” she’d say.  “After that, I got a job working for the local paper, then in college I took classes and worked for the forensics department of the police agency. After graduation, I opened my own business and here I am.”

And all during this conversation I would feel pangs of regret toward my own life. The desire to besomething.  To be known as something, and, yes, the stay-at-home-dad in me wants to do something for money.  I have a camera, or rather my wife has a camera, which I spent a few weeks learning to use, and then for some reason I abandoned all interest in taking artistic photographs.  Why didn’t I stick with it the way this professional photographer did?

Feelings are very strong inside me, even if I don’t always reveal them on the outside (in addition to being a Scanner, I am also an Enneagram 4).  This used to hurt so much I wanted to go home and lie down.  I remember complaining, bitterly, to my wife, Leslie, that I wanted so badly to be something – like a doctor – and yet I couldn’t be.  Of course I couldn’t be.  My grades weren’t good enough, and I get squeamish at the sight of blood.  But I would wonder why?  Why didn’t I grow up with this sense that I wanted to become someone who was successful at one thing?  I had great parents, and a safe and happy childhood.  My mom was telling me constantly that I could be anything I wanted as long as I put my mind to it.  I had the perfect recipe for doing something successful for my life that would meet my goal of helping others.  I kept putting my mind to things and failing again and again, and the worst part was that I couldn’t understand why.

Barbara Sher’s notion of the Scanner as a particular kind of learning style opened my eyes to this self-understanding, but alas, so late in life.  I might have been much happier throughout my twenties if I hadn’t had to deal with the confusion.  It took me a while to let go of my grip on the confusion, too.  I was so used to defining myself by it.  Confusion and the feeling of being scattered became part of my identity.  I had nothing else to define my existence.  Once I understood the answer to the big Why question, it was more like losing my identity than finding it for a while.

Now, most mornings, I wake up early.  I make a cup of coffee or tea, open up a notebook, and begin writing whatever comes to mind.  Sometimes it’s journals, sometimes lists, sometimes poetry.  It really doesn’t matter.  This is just clearing my headspace.  Usually, after a page or two, I’ll land somewhere.  Maybe today I begin thinking about some projects around the home I’d like to finish, and a few more I’d like to start once the list is cleared.  Then I open Evernote and make my daily to-do list, including these home projects.  Maybe I start thinking about whether I could turn out a short story – there are two or three books I purchased a while ago that I should read on that subject, and I can leave my notebook out and open in a central location so I can write down ideas as they come to me throughout the day.  I make plans to read during the afternoon nap-time in my house.  Maybe today I’m thinking a lot about music, and how much I would really like to learn the 12-bar blues in Amaj using all Major Seventh chords on guitar.  This afternoon would be a great time to practice.  Maybe I could write some lyrics and turn out a song – I should leave my book open to write down ideas for that.

I find that I’m much happier doing things this way.  Sure, I’ll never go to medical school or whatever, but I think if I stayed on a single track too long, I would grow bitter, bored, and begin looking for something else anyway.

Finally, society doesn’t respect learners like me.  At least, not unless we invent something really useful that turns into an incredible company that we can head.  Jobs and, perhaps especially, The Waz were both scanners, but they stumbled on something truly beneficial and, eventually, quite lucrative.  Not all scanners get to be quite that lucky, but at least some of us can be happy and less scattered if we learn to use our gifts well.

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