Sunday, January 10, 2010

Are you a Scanner? Or maybe a Diver?

There's another Scanner retreat coming up in France in April (6 - 11) and I just visited the hotel and the medieval village where we'll be holding it. Oh boy that food is good. Never mind. Here's what the retreat's about and a powerful letter from someone who realized he might not be a Scanner after all. Because mistaken identity will mess up a beautiful plan your DNA has set up for you and leave you unhappy and unproductive whether you're multi-talented and love to do everything (a Scanner) or you're a specialist in Scanner disguise who has avoided going deeply into what you love (a Diver).

I knew I was a Scanner long before I came up with the name in I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What it Was. I love to do so many things that I spent years figuring out how to do them all (and earn a living at the same time). I developed so many systems to show different types of I had most of the steps right. But running 7 retreats and interviewing hundreds of Scanners for my book, Refuse To Choose, has taught me so much more.

The Scanner retreat has evolved so much. We still help each Scanner get what he or she needs -- a goal, a direction, a plan, and personal work on their own brand of resistance -- so the power of the retreat continues even after they've returned home. But nothing is more important to me than making sure every single Scanner leaves my retreat with all the right tools and skills so they can stay on course after the retreat ends. That takes time and careful work which is why I started doing 5-day retreats in the first place, and why I keep them very small.

But in the last three years I've added so many new elements that I should change the name to Scanner Workshop. Discoveries that will surprise you, new skills you never knew existed, pinpointing your dream -- all of this is a revelation for a Scanner. Of course, brainstorming a plan for your future with Scanners (and me :-) -- each of whom has knowledge in dozens of fields -- is its own kind of heaven.

I've started to talk about the inevitable ups and downs of going after any dream. and what the 'high' of excitement is really for, why we always crash (and should!), and how that's just the beginning. Once that light bulb goes on for you, going after a dream will never feel the same.

Some of you will learn even more. Depending on who wants and needs it, there's often a brief course in understanding your feelings and discovering how old the child inside you is who is afraid to dream.

And this time, depending on who attends the retreat, we may even help you figure out if you're really a thwarted Diver, like this wonderful person who just wrote me yesterday:

On Jan 9, 2010, at 4:49 PM, MM wrote:

Hello again Barbara,

You know when you read something that hits so close to home it just really shakes you up? Well, you seem to have done it again. I read something in "I Could Do Anything..." that stopped me in my tracks. I haven't been able to read beyond it because I keep reading it over and over and considering it from so many angles. I'm not sure I need to read any further.

Among many other significant points you raise in you section on Divers on page 116 you say, "Only sustained effort will develop the mastery that an unhappy diver really craves. Always feeling like amateurs, but sensing their considerable talent, these people are caught in a nightmare of self-evaluation: Am I a genius or am I a fool? That seesaw thinking is a painful mistake people make when they haven't worked enough."

I'm not embarrassed to say tears came to my eyes when I read that. It couldn't describe my feelings and my patterns any better. And you know what else? I've been thinking for a while now that I was a scanner but now I'm almost certain that I've been a diver all along and even used the scanner label to dodge the truth of what you said about divers. I used it as an excuse to not work harder. I am caught in a wicked circle of self-sabotage and self-evaluation and it has stolen years of valuable time. I'm going to take your 30-day commitment and turn it into a 30-year commitment.

Thanks so much - yet again - for your wisdom and insight.


If that rings any bells, I'd love to hear your comments and questions. I haven't talked much about Divers for awhile, but because of this letter, I'm going to be doing some search and rescue work for Divers as well as Scanners in the next retreat this coming April.

The April retreat is filling up faster than I expected. I don't send out newsletters that include marketing anymore, as you probably know: it's here on the blogs or maybe at or nowhere. But if you want to be there, you'd best head over and save your space.


  1. Wow that totally hits home for me! I've done it all (Rolfing practitioner, artist, writer, even pitching a TV pilot...) and a few years ago I started to realize that I'm actually a Diver- and my dive is about being an entrepreneur. Entrepreneur's may be creative folk and need to wear many hats, but at the end of the day anything and everything I do or have done fits under that one, delicious Diver umbrella.

    Reading the excerpt that was pulled from your book above totally articulates what I was feeling when I tried to figure out my "nightmare of self-evaluation." I've been embracing sustained effort for a while now and I feel like I've come home.

  2. This speaks straight too me. I thought I was a scanner but I am definately a Diver. Finally, I am willing to see. Just turned 46. I have had so many excuses and have been enduring my own 'nightmare of self-evaluation' for so long I can't burns to feel the full impact of my mistake in not working enough, but what a relief it is to have clarity and know what I have to do-work steadily towards mastery. I have learned so much about personal development but haven't worked enough with clients. I ask myself daily 'am I a genius or a fool' and even more often 'how do i know it is not my ego?' self questionning watering down any motivation to take action or commit - now I will see it as just another excuse and keep going. - thank you so much Barbara.

  3. Barbara

    I, too, thought I was a scanner—an unhappy one. I was actually was a diver who wanted something I thought I couldn’t or shouldn’t have. Finally I decided to follow my heart and become a life coach. (By the way, a couple of years ago I wrote to you and suggested that you train life coaches—should I take credit for your new program?) Now I help people like me who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. I know that it is going to take a lot of hard work to get where I want to be, but I am looking forward to diving deeper and deeper into my passion. Thanks for all your inspiration. I hope one day to take one of your courses.

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  5. I misunderstood all my life what it means to work hard. I thought, I can´t do this to my body any more.

    Barbara, I always go from your brilliant work to Chuck Spezzano´s and back, combining the insights. I learnt from him, that my family has a "hard work" theme in the meaning of working your fingers to the bone, but he gave me an idea of inspired hard work, which gives you energy instead of wearing you out.
    So now I go back considering: am I a diver or a scanner? I dropped one major interest, because I found out, I only did it to please someone else and feel relief. Others meet the cyclical scanner profile.

    I shyed away from my passions because I was so consumed with pleasing others and because I was so afraid of all the hard work, hopping from one to another whenever it seemed to become serious.
    I am still a curious person, even more now that I am now longer so afraid where any interest might lead. But I can allow myself now, to dive into some interests safely.

    I even considered, if I might be the angry person you describe in "I could do anything...". Maybe I was. At least it is no longer a problem to start small and work hard.

  6. I think I might be a diver. I feel like a scanner sometimes, but I think I am not. I get the impression that scanners are happy to just scratch the surface, but I'm not. I want to be the best at something.

    I think maybe, I never learned how to learn. I am naturally good at a lot of things, and when they start to get difficult, they get dropped. I've worked in retail, the military, tourism, and education now. But I think what I really want to do is write.

    Unfortunately, that's one of those things that requires years and years of commitment. Don't know if the diver in me will make it :(

  7. I want to be really good at something too. Maybe. Unless I find out it sucks.

  8. Hi Linguista

    I'd like to respond to two parts of your post because you might be wrong about yourself. **

    "I think maybe, I never learned how to learn."

    **Possibly. Not uncommon for bright, multi-talented kids. But maybe that's not the problem, at all.

    "I am naturally good at a lot of things, and when they start to get difficult, they get dropped."


    There's nothing as exhausting, especially for a curious, intelligent brain, as trying to concentrate on something they're not interested in. In fact, as you see in my book, Refuse To Choose, I've quoted numerous studies that say you can damage cognitive ability by forcing young people to study what bores them.

    There are lots of things a Scanner can do for a living that never get boring. If you were a visual person, an artist, for example, you could be a designer. But all designing is the same: you do the design part, and somebody else does the execution and the maintenance -- because they'll do it better! That's not what they hire you for.

    Here's more good news: if you like to write -- and I see you do -- you're going to be a very happy Scanner because writing is an 'umbrella skill.' You can write about anything that interests you, and when you've completed your article or your book, you can write about something else that interests you. (Check out the range of titles by Tracey Kidder, for example.)

    Now to your second misconception:

    "Unfortunately, [writing is] one of those things that requires years and years of commitment."

    **No it doesn't. Not if you think of yourself as a journalist, for example, who interviews people and writes articles or books about them. (The author of Nickel and Dimed actually lived the life of a minimum wage earner for a year and wrote a fabulous book about it. Now that's *interesting!* Her next book was on a totally different subject.

    So forget whether you're a scanner or a diver: start a blog and write about whatever interests you. Keep track of when your interest is high and at what point it flags and then, in addition to writing something that will inform the world, and enjoying yourself by investigating a new field, you'll also add to the literature about Scanners.


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