For many of us, making life choices doesn’t come easily. We watch, bewildered, as all around us other people seem to have an innate understanding of what it is that they want to do and where they’re headed, which career to pursue, which neighbourhood to live in or even whom to marry.
But take heart if you are one of life’s dabblers who never seems to be able to stick to just one choice, but instead travels through life changing lanes and taking up new interests on a regular basis. If this sounds like you, chances are you are what life and careers coach Barbara Sher dubs a ‘scanner’ – the type of person who thrives on change and skimming the surface of things, to savour as many different experiences as possible.
This is great once you get going, but many have trouble getting anything done at all. ‘For scanners, deciding what to do next can feel really scary,’ says John Williams, author of Screw Work, Let’s Play (Prentice Hall), who runs monthly Scanners Nights in London. ‘The good news is, there are strategies you can adopt to move your life forward.’
1. Pick a project.
For many of us, the last time we immersed ourselves in a project was probably when we were at school. Projects offer a chance to focus on one area and go on a voyage of discovery. ‘Start by choosing a life area that you want to move forward with – either a hobby or a business idea, a lifestyle or a new relationship,’ says Williams. ‘Then write down a list of all the experiences around that topic that you feel you might enjoy. Don’t censor. So if you’re looking to change job, you might write down a list of possible new careers, from stockbroker to writer to coach.’
Once you have this list, pick the one that sounds most appealing to experiment with. ‘If you really can’t decide, toss a coin,’ says Williams. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as you do choose something.’
2. Commit for a month.
‘Schedule a short burst of time, say half an hour, to work on your project every day,’ says Williams. However, he has clear rules about how this time is to be used. ‘Avoid ruminating, reading or Googling. Instead, dive in and actually experience the thing you want to do,’ he says. So if you’re looking for love, go on dates or chat online to potential partners rather than just aimlessly surfing dating sites. If you want a new career as a web designer, interview people who already do the job, read trade magazines, hang out at the same places as them, or do a course.
‘If an interest only exists in your head, you really have no idea whether it’s for you or not,’ says Williams. ‘You have to try it.’
3. Don’t rule things out too quickly.
This holds true for any choice you have to make. ‘If something isn’t making you happy or getting results, instead of ditching it immediately, spend some time thinking about what would need to happen to make it work for you,’ says Williams. ‘Very often you’ll see a way forward just by doing this,’ says Williams. He points out that scanners very often bail out too early before giving things a chance.
‘If things aren’t going well, ask yourself why,’ he says. ‘If you’re bored, or not getting along with other people involved, check whether this has been an issue somewhere else in your life in the past. There is a certain wisdom in the phrase “what you do anywhere is what you do everywhere”. Identifying your patterns can be incredibly useful.’ For example, if you get bored easily, realise that this is normal and might be a phase you need to go through before becoming fully engaged.
4. Be flexible.
‘You can do almost anything if you do the work, but it is worth remembering that some things are much more difficult and competitive than others,’ says Williams, citing writing a novel, acting and pop stardom as prime examples.
‘That doesn’t mean you should give up if something feels difficult, or opt for things that are easy,’ he says. ‘But what you might find is that you can get the experience you want from doing something slightly different.’ For example, if you want to be a writer, work out what is it about writing that you love. Is it that you enjoy playing with words, or is it that you like creating fantasy worlds? If it’s the latter, there are lots of other things that would give you that, for example set design, computer game scripts or working with children.
5. Few choices are irreversible.
‘People fear committing to one option because they believe they’ll have to stick with it for ever, compromise or put up with something they might fall out of love with,’ says Williams. ‘But just because you’ve made a choice, that doesn’t mean it’s for ever. The trick is to customise situations to suit you as things evolve, and, if all else fails, you can still move on to a different choice.’ Very few choices are irreversible.
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