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135 of 137 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2006
This is a really good book. You need to read it if you are someone who has so many interests you can't seem to get anything done. If everyone you know says you just never grew up and settled down then you are probably a Scanner. Do you have so many interests the books and papers pile up? Do you constantly find things that interest you and you never seem to be able to finish them? You are almost certainly a Scanner, and you need to hear what Barbara Sheer has to say. It can make a big difference.

I was so impressed that I went to her forum at and signed up. I don't usually like forums because they are a big waste of time. Here people are asking questions, making interesting remarks, and helping each other. It gives you a little insight into yourself just to know there are plenty of other people with the same kind of challenges as yourself, and you might be able to give them some ideas about how you solved a similar situation for yourself.

I do not like self-help books. Everyone has an idea about how you should run your life. This book is not like that. It is more like some basic information on a type of person that receives little or no affirmation in our culture. These people, as Barbara points out, are some of the most creative people around. Their problem, if it is really a problem, is that they cannot give up on pursuing other creative interests that most people give up to concentrate on or two. This book tells you how you can do all those things that really interest you. If you know someone like that you should read the book and pass it on to them. They will probably love you for it. I wish I had found it twenty years ago.
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821 of 897 people found the following review helpful
Suddenly the self-help world has awakened to a shocking discovery: Careers don't move in a straight line. Some people cannot make a single choice for a lifetime. Some people can't follow traditional career guidance to choose the "right" career. So we have Margaret Lobenstine's Renaissance Soul and now Barbara Sher's Refuse to Choose.

These insights are not new. As I said elsewhere, Rick Jarow anticipated the trend in Creating the Work You Love. He encouraged readers to choose up to 5 goals for a six-month horizon. And in Working Identity, Herminia Ibarra reports research suggesting that career change never did follow a straight line. We just hoped it would.

Sher's major contribution lies in the exercises she has designed. As a career consultant, I'm totally impressed. I particularly like the "Everything I Don't Want List" (p. 216). Unfortunately, as Herminia Ibarra noted in Working Identity, self-analysis is the easy, fun part of career change. Implementing your new direction is tough, and that's where most career changers give up.

And I have to add that I'm generally suspicious of typologies. Most readers will recognize themselves in more than one of Sher's Scanner types.

That said, I believe many readers will feel relieved as they read this book, simply because they feel Sher understands them. She does a great service to readers by debunking career myths, including variations of, "You have one passion and it must be connected with your job."

My concerns come when we're asked to translate these insights into reality. Sher's time management suggestions are creative and (I suspect) practical. For instance, some people can organize their days as if they were still in school, with hour-long "periods" for their different interests. Others can use chunks as small as a commercial break.

But, as a career consultant and career changer, I believe we need to recognize trade-offs more explicitly. Those who dig deeply into a career will almost always gain greater external rewards (i.e., money, status, approval) than those who try to do many different things.

We don't need to be judgmental. We can recognize that certain personality types will be more successful, in general. Research (which Sher does not use) shows that people who are tall and attractive can obtain unique rewards. Life isn't fair.

The book's two greatest weaknesses: Sher tries to match specific careers to scanner types and she shares success stories that range from unique to unbelievable.

For example, certain Scanners will be suited to teaching. But teaching at elementary and high school levels requires sitting through dreary, mind-numbing education courses. College teaching offers more scope for creativity. As she says, a research professor can have fun reading from sociology, psychology, anthropology and English literature, turning these new ideas into research papers.

However, to have freedom for research, you need to find a sufficiently high-quality university. And once on board, there's enormous pressure to specialize. The top researchers in any field tend to have fairly narrow focuses. They learn one technique and one field in great depth. As time goes on, they may add a second of a third. Those who "refuse to choose" pay a price in reputation, translating to marketability and ultimately dollars.

Worse, this book does not address the difficulty of entering certain Scanner-friendly fields, such as motivational speaking, National Park Service jobs, and more. Starting one's own business does offer freedom -- but the vast majority of business owners spend up to 90% of their time on marketing. Read The E-Myth by Michael Gerber.

Finally, some examples seem unrealistic and even dangerous for some career changers. For example, on page 136, Sher describes "Huey," who chose to become a secretary to gain time for reading nineteenth century novels.

"Huey" claims he has 3.5 hours every evening, plus 12 hours weekends and holidays, to fulfill his literary passions. Clearly, Huey isn't married, and for sure he doesn't have children, dogs or a health club membership.

My question: What happens to Huey when he turns thirty, forty or fifty? I'm reminded of Tama Kieves, who wrote This Time I Dance. Kieves, a disgruntled lawyer, took a waitress job "serving curly fries" to her former colleagues. These jobs are fine when you're young -- but as you reach forty and fifty, with no other options, they stop being a Good Enough Job, let alone a lark, and start feeling like a trap.

Once I read a sad posting on a career forum. "Elise" had taken a series of secretarial jobs to fill her passion for self-improvement courses, such as est and esalen. But now, in her 40's, she had little savings and fewer options.

There's something wonderfully satisfying about a sense of mastery, particularly for those in forties, fifties and sixties. Saying "I know how to do this" and "I'm on top of my field" carries a confidence that can be transferred to the pursuit of new dreams.

And sacrificing income doesn't mean just giving up a few restaurant meals or even wearing last season's clothes. Money can't buy happiness but it can avoid a lot of misery. As one of my friends likes to say, "Serving your passion is fine but eventually your passion gets tired of eating mac and cheese."

Bottom Line: I'd recommend this book to my clients as the first step in "finding your dream career." But I'd suggest following inspiration with action, recognizing the tradeoffs and being open to serendipitous twists and turns along the journey.
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119 of 128 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2006
First of all, I am not a friend of Barbara Sher. I have taken one of her idea classes and have seen her on Public Television. (In case you reader think I am a friend or family member)

What I have ALWAYS been is confused. I am not stupid--actually more on the intellectual side. I have varied interests in the Pre-Raphaelites, travel,hockey, making mosaics, growing a garden, politics, writing, being healthy, quirky little English movies etc etc. And instead of picking one career..I have found myself in menial jobs--retail, shelving books at a library, working reservations for a major airline, temp jobs with insurance companies etc etc. And I am still barely over minimum wage, intellegent and having friends wonder what is wrong with me--or asking if I had ADD.

That could be MANY of you..and I bet if you are looking for this have a sneaking suspicion that you don't need ritalin..but you need some TOOLS to help you be the successful person that you want to be.

This is the book you have been looking for.

Yes, you have diverse interests and your family has poo pooed them..and told you to grow up. You have not understood why. Sadly, it is because you are a scanner--a renaissance person like Leonardo or Thomas Jefferson or Barbara Sher herself. A hundred years ago you would have been admired, now the norm is having a one track mind. This book is to not only identify your status as a Scanner but to also use it to your advantage.

Barbara is a great teacher with years of experience working with people struggling to figure out what their dream work is. This book is for those of us who dream of living a life with lots of variety and still able to pay the bills.

Although I have just recently read her book, I finally feel some clarity and none of the inactivity from feeling overwhelmed by my need to keep my life varied. Years ago, I was encouraged to test for ADD and did not qualify for Ritalin. Now I realize that it is not ritalin that I needed--I needed Barbara Sher and this book.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2006
In the early to mid-20th century, most of us were raised to approach our careers as follows: (1) Identify something that you're good at, (2) get the appropriate education or training, and (3) do it for the next 40 years. Beginning in the 1980's, this was replaced by a new approach: (1) Identify your grand passion in life (your Soul's Code, your True Work), (2) get the appropriate education or training (not necessarily through formal schooling), and (3) ditto. Those of us with many passions in life were ill served by both approaches. (I've always held with Robert Heinlein's character Lazarus Long, who, after listing the multiple and diverse skills that human beings should cultivate, concludes scornfully, "Specialization is for insects"!) So it's great that more than one book has finally come out that addresses our multifaceted natures.

I read this book and Margaret Lobenstine's *The Renaissance Soul* in succession. I prefer Lobenstine's terminology ("Scanner" lacks the historical resonance), and she presents loads of encouraging anecdotes and helpful exercises, so I feel that anyone who recognizes themselves as a "Renaissance soul" should definitely read both books. However, I think that Sher's book is better for several reasons.

1. All Scanners are not alike. Sher recognizes this fact, and offers a series of quizzes that help you to identify which type(s) you are and specify which job(s) will offer you the greatest satisfaction. (I bumbled into technical writing, and it's worked out very well for me, but, if someone had pointed it out earlier as a possible career, I might have been spared the bumbling -- then again, it was a good learning experience.)

2. Sher's advice about forming a support group was excellent in *Wishcraft* back in the 80's, and it's even more pertinent here. We Scanners often find ourselves viewed as oddballs, immature, "unable to focus," etc., so the mere fact that we're not alone can be powerfully encouraging. And if your Success Team is made up of other Scanners, that will eliminate a lot of irrelevant advice from people who don't understand where you're coming from.

3. Even in her earliest books, Sher "got" one fundamental point that is often overlooked by career counselors: your job is not your life. If you can make a job out of your Grand Passion, that's great -- but, for many people, it's a matter of ensuring that your job supports your passion rather than crowding it out of your life. This is especially crucial for Scanners, and I think that Sher makes excellent suggestions about how to balance your life without abandoning any of your multiple passions.

Sher coined the terminology and discussed Scanners in half a chapter of her earlier book, *I Could Do Anything (If Only I Knew What It Was)*. This book is far more than an expansion of that chapter, but the latter is still worth reading too. (I recall completing the "ten lives" exercise with great enjoyment -- but I believe I came up with twelve lives!)

In today's rapidly changing work environment, flexibility, resilience, and the ability to adapt have become as important as dedication, focus, and loyalty were in the mid-20th-century workplace. (It's not that Scanners lack those qualities; we just use them differently!) Learning to appreciate the advantages of being a Scanner, and to use our unique qualities to the full, can make a major difference in our job and life satisfaction, and Sher has given us the tools to do it.
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2006
I read Barbara's "It's Only Too Late If You Don't Start Now" at the ripe old age of 34, after suffering a Traumatic Brain Injury and needing to re-design my whole life to fit my new needs- It SAVED MY LIFE!

I have since read each and every one of her books, and handed out copies like a crazed zealot! I think that I am single-handedly keeping Barbara in vacations! (Assuming she even DOES vacations, Somehow, I see her on a constant, driven .... Purpose-Spree... no time for vacation!):c) Each and every person I've given a book to has reported back to me that reading them has changed their lives, added purpose, re-directed, and given them the "permission" they needed to live what they really wanted all along- AND, more importantly- to figure out what that is!

This book is no different!

I have been passionately torn in many directions for most of my life, paralyzed by the fear of committing to any single passion, for fear of letting go of the basket-fulls of others.

This book not only explains WHY, but gives direction, purpose, focus and validation to these feelings. It's not a bad thing, it's fine! It's WONDERFUL! And WORKABLE! And...I don't need to relinquish ANY dreams or passions!

Now... If I could convince Barbara to come over to my house for coffee- perhaps for vacation?!
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on March 10, 2006
Barbara Sher offers encouragement and guidance to those of us who don't know what we want to "be when we grow up." A fellow "scanner," she commiserates with our need to scan the horizon for new challenges and discoveries, and with the burdening notion that, if we stick with just one thing, we'll miss out on something better. Ultimately, Barbara gives scanners permission to say, "I won't do only one thing - I'll do it all."

The book is filled with guidance and various techniques that scanners can apply to our lives, based on which type of scanner we are (it's refreshing to know that we don't fit neatly into the same package). Barbara describes the various types at length so that even the most indecisive scanner will identify with only one or two the categories.

It turns out that I'm a wanderer: someone who is drawn to so many disparate types of activities that it seems my life lacks direction and form. Though, after reading Barbara's book, I realize that my "wanderings" aren't random - that all along they've had a theme and have followed a precise path. By completing the exercises in the book, I've discovered what that theme is and have decided to compile my journey into a collection of personal essays.

Don't waste any more time trying to wrangle yourself down a career path that doesn't work for you. Barbara reminds us that when we understand ourselves, we can be free to what we were born to do. Good luck!
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2008
For years, I beat myself up because I hopped from job to job because as soon as I mastered a task, I got bored. Every time I fell in love with a new hobby, I tried to make it a career, only to feel boxed in as soon as it began to take off. I thought I was afraid of success or lazy or undisciplined, but none of that was true. Barbara Sher taught me that I have a beautiful mind--like Leonardo da Vinci. Well, maybe not that good, but I have a hungry mind that needs stimulation. I have nothing to be ashamed of.
Since reading her book, I have written and published travel articles, entered the Pillsbury Bake-off, and started grad school--none of which I would have wasted time on before because they weren't "worthy" activities. I've learned that anything that feeds my soul is worthy and every fleeting interest fills my creative reservoir. Most importantly, I'm the happiest I've ever been since I quit trying to fit into someone else's mold.
If you're feeling flaky or lazy or guilty because you're interested in absolutely everything, read this book.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
It seems to me that the two extremely negative reviews on this book came from people who not only are not scanners, but refuse to believe they exist. That being said, I think everyone needs to read this book whether he/she is a scanner or not. As Barbara says in the book, what happened to the Renaissance Man/Woman? Why all of a sudden must we specialize if it makes us miserable? Her suggestions for how to cope with being a scanner are excellent. At least it gives us a framework to channel our talents. It also will help non-Scanners understand who we are and why we operate the way we do.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2006
I can't say I totally believe I am a *scanner* now that I read this interesting book by Barbara Sher, but I can say I feel comforted that it is absolutely OKAY to be interested by and want to explore so many diverse opportunities in life. I especially found the Scanner Day Book idea to be wonderful, a great place where I can write down all those potential business ideas that rattle persistently in my brain. Seeing my ideas on paper, even if I never do anything to make them reality, provides a satisfaction of accomplishment that I didn't realize it would.

As I read the book, I thought of my family (my 5 sisters and my parents) and realized we probably are a family of scanners - every one of us has wide variety of interests and are continually adding more! I'm enjoying identifying which type of scanner each family member seems to be.

And as for inspiration - the job ideas for scanner types has inspired me to take action on some areas I am interested in, such as teaching at a local community college, being a reader of student essays for a local educational laboratory, even writing a book review on (this is my first!), plus others. Some of these will make an income for me, some won't, but I know I will enjoy the journey.

Many reviewers of this book have shared how their lives have been positively touched by this book. Take the time and read it, you'll be pleasantly surprised.

PS. Feel free to provide me with feedback on my first book review!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2008
It was such a relief to read this book and realize I am not the only one who suffers from what my family has termed "Career ADD." Scanner is a much friendlier word. I have always felt that my abilities were unique and special, but I have also suffered the reality of being pulled in too many directions to be really effective at anything.

The best parts of this book, for me, were learning that there are other people who are so similar to me, and utilizing a number of the suggested exercises to great effect.

I suspect that those who gave this book a negative review are either 1) not actually scanners themselves, or 2) expecting more from a book than is fair. Was every single page useful to me? Of course not. Nor did I expect it to be, because everyone is different, and I didn't expect the answers to life's questions to appear in a few hundred pages. No career book can do that.

In particular, I can't agree with a couple of points in Dr. Goodwin's review - first, that Sher tries to neatly categorize scanners into different typologies. While she does come up with titles for different types of scanners that share similar characteristics, Sher herself clearly states that no one will fall neatly into any category. But heck, you have to organize a book somehow.

Second, I can't agree with the assertion that Sher's insights are not new. While others may have published works about "scanner" types or about meandering careers in the past, I fear one might have to be a career counselor to be aware of them. The fact that Sher is reaching a broad audience with this idea IS new, otherwise it would not have struck such a chord among us scanners. If Dr. Goodwin were herself a scanner, and were she not a career counselor, with access to many other similar tomes, she might feel the same way.

For those of you out there who truly are scanners, do yourself a favor and read this book. Will it solve all your problems? No. Will it give you some hope and direction? Yes.
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