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Are you already done? Or are you still scanning?

Yes, this article is very personal. And for now, there’s no happy ending. But I just felt like putting it into words for the world out there and for myself.

There are many types of people. And that’s wonderful. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. And if you combine them, you can create something great. That’s why many people enjoy working in a team so much. One person is good at organizing, another is creative, others are solution-oriented and extroverts sell this well. And if everyone feels comfortable in their place in the team and is properly deployed, anything is probably possible.

If you were to ask me what my strength is, I would most likely think about it a little longer. No, it’s not that I don’t have any strengths. There are quite a few things I can be proud of in my life. Although … didn’t it all more or less come to me? And no, I’m not talking about the famous impostor syndrome. In other words, the feeling that you’re nothing more than an impostor and that you don’t deserve everything you have. And that it will all come out at any moment. This feeling is widespread. But as I’m realizing more and more, it goes much further for me.

Chaos

The people around me perceive me as a calm, friendly and emphatic person. But there is often chaos in my head. There are simply too many things that keep me busy, that circle around in my head and, in the worst case, form into one or ten ideas. And this typically takes on excessive proportions. In around 22 years of marriage, I’ve heard my wife say more than once that she’s overwhelmed with me because I’m constantly coming up with new ideas, plans, and thoughts. And then I want to try something new and go shopping for it, sometimes spending horrendous sums on something that becomes completely uninteresting some time later. Here are a few examples:

I would like to do something creative. As if photography were a great thing. I go out, buy my first camera and a lens and get started. Hey, that’s fun! So the following lenses, flash units and other equipment are quickly added. A friend then asked if I would photograph his wedding. Of course, I would. And hey, that’s fun! I could do that for a living. So I set up a small company. While I work at my job all week, I photograph weddings over the weekend. That’s exhausting, of course. I also get bored. I not only quit my job, I quit photography altogether. Furthermore, I’d just have to keep going to get excellent.

But now: I want to make music. That’s creative, and I certainly have a talent for it. So I bought myself a great keyboard and a few sound libraries. And hey, that’s fun! I could start composing film scores and classical music now (apart from the fact that I still can’t read music). So I added countless realistic orchestral libraries, which cost an incredible amount of money. After a few perhaps quite reasonable attempts, I’m now sitting in front of the thing and my head is empty. No ideas, no inspiration and … no more desire. I just have to keep going to get exceptional.

Then: A friend is writing her first novel — the first part of a trilogy. She knows that I like reading novels and likes to get feedback. And I’ve been considering writing myself for ages. Now would be a great opportunity to finally get started. I buy software and learn how to use it. I watch YouTube videos on what to look out for when writing. Likewise, I have ideas. Even really great ideas. But now the real work begins: building the plot, thinking up characters and writing their biographies, etc. etc. And now? I’m downright afraid to start because I know I’ll give up again. But all I have to do is keep going to get superb.

And these are just 3 examples from the last few years. Before and during that time, there were hundreds of other ideas that flared up and died out again. Flavored with a pinch of perfectionism, overconfidence, and megalomania. And that also runs through my working world: after 3 or 4 years, boredom sets in. Then I’m drawn elsewhere. Working at Apple? Really cool, but it’s definitely better somewhere else. Travelling in the field? It was fun, but also exhausting. An entirely new career field? I’ve already made a few lateral moves, which took a lot of energy. And once I’ve fundamentally understood how something works, the question quickly arises: ‘So, what do I do now?’

Depression

It is inevitable that your head and mind will one day say: ‘I don’t want any more’. Constantly something new. Rethinking again and again. And then to know that you won’t be able to pull it off in the end (or let’s call it what it is: failure) is very frustrating. You doubt yourself. I think I’m inconsistent, erratic, don’t finish anything. And above all: I’m not a pro at anything. There’s no subject where I’m really deep into the subject and can demonstrate something, while everyone else around me is constantly becoming a real pro and flourishing in what they do.

A few weeks ago, I thought more intensively about my personal career (both private and professional) and came to the conclusion, completely desperate and mentally exhausted, that it couldn’t go on like this. So I turned to the search engine and tried to find out how broken I really am. Why am I the way I am? I searched for ‘inner turmoil’, ‘constantly starting something new’, ‘not finishing anything’, etc. And relatively quickly I came across a word whose definition caught me cold:

Scanner personality

This term was coined by Barbara Sher. She was an author and coach and seemed to have studied this phenomenon intensively. Here is a definition from the online magazine Psychology Today that describes this personality:

Scanners move curiously through the variety of possible topics, professions, hobbies: they live in a constant alternation of getting to know, plunging into, absorbing, living through and letting go again.

They are often busy with several ideas or companies at the same time, to which they dedicate themselves in parallel or alternately. Open to a wide variety of things, they are proactive and often highly efficient in the realization of the respective project. But they also have to be. Because they have little stamina when something no longer interests them — scanners hate to be bored.

Psychology Today

Of course, many good things are attributed to such personalities. Scanners are fantastic at familiarizing themselves with a new topic. They are creative and quick on the uptake. And yes, that’s what I’m said to be, and it’s also mentioned in one or two employer references. You can use them in various ways because they simply get to grips with any subject quickly. Many scanners are considered highly gifted. I wouldn’t say that about myself, but gifted is more like it.

But what I have also read more and more about is that scanners have a strong tendency to fall into burnout or depression if they are not careful. And I’ve been at this point several times in my life. And right now, it doesn’t feel so great again. Especially as the society we live in is already geared towards having as many constants as possible: People want to rely on you to do the job they’ve hired you for. The family would like to be able to rely on you continuing to provide for everything and not quitting your job for nothing to do something entirely different. If you’re already spending a lot of money on a hobby, then please stick to it. And if you have the idea of immigrating to Norway, then … no, just no.

The child has a name, but is still ugly

So now I’ve looked into this topic. And I now know what’s behind it. That’s a good thing. I’m just such a personality. I can’t help it.

But what I don’t know is what to do with this information. You can’t just shake off a deep-seated ‘quirk’ like that. I can’t just say tomorrow: ‘Well, now I’m going to sit down and work on my novel until it’s finished. I already know how to do that.’ That would probably make me overjoyed in the end if I pulled it off, but getting there would be an ordeal.

Of course, I can tell myself a mantra: ‘I’m not broken, I have my strengths, there’s nothing wrong with me. And everything I know, can and do, I have to attribute to my curiosity and hard work. I’m not an impostor.’ And yes, it’s great that today it’s no longer about the perfect CV, but that versatility is valued. And yes, my professional CV is already a patchwork quilt.

But that doesn’t change the fact that I still feel driven, that I disappoint people or drive them to despair. It doesn’t change the fact that I can’t rely on myself because I might wake up tomorrow morning, not feel like doing what I have to do today and would much rather be doing something wholly different. Which is utopian, of course.

But at least I’ve written it down now. I’m curious to hear what you think. Are you familiar with this phenomenon? And if so, do you have a good strategy for maneuvering your way through life? I’m really looking forward to your comments.

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