A few weeks ago I wrote that I’d decided to follow in the footsteps of famous polymaths like Leonardo and Ben Franklin, rather than fitting myself into the writer/artist mold at all costs. Afterward, I hunted through the library’s collections and wound up with three books: Stefan Klein’s Leonardo’s Legacy, Margaret Lobenstine’s The Renaissance Soul, and Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose! The first is about Leonardo’s sketchbooks and thought processes (inasmuch as we can try to discuss them), and the latter two are life guides for people who have too many interests to pick just one career path. All are excellent; I’d recommend the Leonardo book to anyone, but if you’re a breadthy person like me, I cannot possibly press Lobenstine and Sher on you vehemently enough.
Sher’s Refuse to Choose, especially, struck all kinds of chords in my system. I started reading it yesterday afternoon at a coffee shop and I couldn’t stop laughing out loud — every person she described sounded just like me. From the woman who couldn’t decide whether to spend her free afternoon on crafts or a family history or the piano or her new business idea, to the author’s recollection of her own first week at UC Berkeley, when she cried because the Catalog of Classes sounded so wonderful — it was like reading about myself. I giggled and sighed all afternoon and then spent several hours with the exercises in the book.
Findings, in a nutshell:
- It is okay to be me. Validation is sweet. These two books, particularly Sher’s, confirm my own conclusions that some people are just not designed for specialization/depth, and that’s nothing to be worried about (even though society currently tries to groom us for that path). Sher calls us Scanners; I’m not sure how much I like referring to myself as a piece of office equipment, though I agree it’s catchy!
- Know thyself. Both books advise that the first step is to figure out what motivates me. That way, I’ll be better equipped to prioritize my time. Lobenstine’s book had me looking at the rationales behind my regular activities; Sher’s had me recalling my past accomplishments, what I loved about them, and why I stopped doing those things. These exercises were really interesting: I noticed many patterns I’d never seen before! For instance, I found that I’m easily swayed by the pressures of obligation and keeping up my reputation — but often, the only person laying on that pressure is me (ie, no one else would notice if I stopped doing that thing). I also discovered that I love excitement, challenge, adventure — and performance and dressing up! Those surprised me, because I’m no thrill-seeker, nor any kind of actor. But challenge and performance mean different things to different people. I bet there are climbers out there who’ve summited (summitted?) K2 who would quake at the thought of hosting a dinner for 12, but that’s a challenge I love… and performance can mean teaching or public speaking, as much it can refer to playing a role on stage. I also value day-to-day personal freedom, which is something I never thought about before.
- With so many interests and ideas, I absolutely must have good, functional systems for goal-setting, and for managing everything. I knew this from reading Getting Things Done two years ago, but these books gave me some additional ideas that are more Scanner-specific.
So I’m feeling a little more invigorated than I was, and — perhaps more valuable still — I’m feeling like I know myself better. I have more concrete ideas now about what makes me tick and what I need to take care of myself, and I’m also getting more of a sense of what really turns me off (one example: nothing shuts me down faster than feeling alienated from the other people in a group). It’s great info to have, four days away from turning thirty!!