November 5, 2007

Refuse to Choose: A book rec

One of the things I did this summer was read a fair number of books (I had some down time waiting for and riding Amtrak, and then waiting for my connection once I got there). I am, therefore, way, way, way behind in book reviewing.

I've mentioned this book to a few folks already, but haven't made mention of it yet here, and it's high time: Refuse to Choose, by Barbara Sher. The main idea behind her book is that there are perfectly intelligent--often, highly intelligent--people out there who have more than one life-giving, life-sustaining passion. Sometimes those folks are called dabblers or dilettantes; in other times, they're called Renaissance people. In any case, it can be terrifically hard to pick a career path--or even a hobby to dive into--when you're good at and interested in so many different things. Her argument is that you can find ways not to have to choose just one.

I liked this book for two main reasons. One was that it was my first exposure to the idea that there are what she calls "Scanners" (those who like to Scan all the possibilities in life before deciding on their entree). Just knowing that I'm not a freak (okay, not that kind of freak :-P ) was nice to hear (a telling anecdote she provides that resonated because it happened to me: you know when you take those job aptitude tests in about 8th grade? What are you supposed to do when they say you're good at everything??? Everybody raise a paw who's had that happen.). The second was the very practical set of time management tools she offers as food for thought.

As an example: she profiles several different subtypes of these Scanners. (And they are both subjective and overlapping in many ways; this is not a Myers-Briggs kinda system, but more a series of touchstones.) One of the descriptions that struck me was what she calls a "Sybil"; someone who loves to do lots of different things...so many that they can become stymied and paradoxically end up doing nothing, in the fear that choosing one to do means letting another (or seven) go. Simple idea: figure out how long it takes you to get bored, or even just restless. Allocate a little less time than that to one project or whatever, then do a different one for the same amount of time. Repeat. Repeat. Etc. It's not hard and fast--she encourages you to enjoy a "zone" if you get into one...but it's a somewhat radical departure from what I think of as the DayRunner Approach: do your task until it's done, then see what's next on your schedule. If you're a DayRunner kind of worker, you're probably gnashing your teeth. But I've been getting lots more done since I've tried her way...and I'm cheerfuller, too, not feeling tied to the grindstone!

Another subtype that hit home for me (she calls them "Plate-Spinners") loves to put out fires, saving situations for others and just generally rescuing grateful people. I have no claims to being SuperWoman...but gosh, there is a rush in turning something around! But these types not only love to save the day, they like to do several saving missions at once (um, can you say, "Teacher"?) The problem there, of course, is not only having tons to do, it's having others counting on you to do it. And coming back for more. The advice here, while useful, was not profound; what was helpful for me was in having it applied particularly to this sort of person (she says: "Learn to say NO!" At least some of the time.) A bit like having a segment on Oprah followed by a personalized ticker at the bottom that says, "And this means you, buster!"

Anyway, if you have more things you love to do/want to try/hope to accomplish than seems possible in any one lifetime; find yourself wanting to be on time but caught up in just doing one more thing; not wanting to let go of some hobby you haven't done in ages because you still love it...this could be a good book for you, too.

1 comment:

Tami said...

*ahem* shyly raises hand...

i'll not list my lifetime series of vocations and crazy neverending community projects.

*blushes and simultaneously emits an exhausted and exasperated sigh*

it's a damn fine thing, though, when you finally hit your stride at something...i gave teaching 8+ years and never did feel as if i mastered that one, despite glowing recommendations and evaluations, peer respect, etc.

now this parenting gig, after 8+ years...this i am finally getting used to.

*more sighing*

i've always said it's my inner social worker combined with AD(H?)D that has caused all this, sustained it, and, well, you know.

i think, based upon your review, that i not only fit right in, i fit into all her interesting little categories. sybil indeed! *cackle*