It’s so weird when you think about it.
The schooling system in western countries is set up to make us into specialists. As you get older, you are encouraged (forced) to narrow down your interests, to decide what classes you like the most and might want to make into your career and stop taking the ones you aren’t good at. And then, when you are in university it narrows down further. You end up studying nursing or psychology or science and the only way you are exposed to other topics is if you deliberately choose to go outside of your friend. You are turned into a specialist, trained only in your chosen field. And the subjects are taught in that way as well. If you are a psychologist, you are taught only psychology. It’s as if someone’s mental state exists in isolation from everything else in the world.
But we all know the world doesn’t work that way, don’t we? Everything is connected. So taking the psychology course a step further, someone’s mental state is probably connected to science, biology, philosophy, religious studies, maybe finance, the politics of the country they live in, the sociology of the time and place where they find themselves. It’s connected to the ethics of a medical system that shoves pills down people’s throats even in situations when the research clearly shows that other approaches are far superior and it may be connected to music and other therapies that have been known to lift mood. And yet our theoretical psychologist is taught their trade in isolation, perhaps skimming the edges of these things but never outright told that they are just as, if not more relevant, than Freud’s obsession with his bratwurst.
I read in Barbara Sher’s amazing, wonderful, life changing book Refuse to Choose that this trend towards specialisation didn’t happen until the technological age. When America was trying to beat Russia to the moon, there was a need for people who knew everything about a subject, who went deep into it and could do the math and the science to get a flying bomb to the moon. Just a handful of years ago, it became normal for people to know a lot about one subject and have only cursory knowledge of others. You can see this particularly in the tech industry today, in the stereotype of the computer nerd who can hack government systems but not wash the chip stains off their own t-shirts.
But once, this was not the norm. We tend to think of the Victorian age as one that was restrained by social and sexual mores that seem outdated and prudish to our modern sensibilities and that’s definitely true, but it was also the age of people who knew a reasonable amount about a lot of things. I remember reading once that a very young former queen of England spoke a handful of languages fluently, could read and write in a couple more, played several musical instruments well, danced like a ballerina and also had the skills and knowledge to run a country.
These days we call people who have a variety of skills like that a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’. This phrase is not used as a compliment. Ever.
One of my all-time favourite geniuses in the world was a good example of this tendency to not specialise. Leonardo da Vinci was arguably the smartest man who has ever lived. He painted works of art that are revered as masterpieces to this day. He created his own code for making notes. He drew images of helicopters and submarines centuries before they would ever exist. He created models of flying machines that could transport men through the air a long time before flying from one country to another became the norm. He created and played musical instruments. He advised some of the most powerful men of the era. His was a mind that should have been put into a bottle of alcohol after his death so it was preserved through all time. And he was interested in so many subjects that I have no doubt he went to his grave thinking ‘oh boy, I never had the time to do this’ even though he was an old man when he died.
Some of the best, most important minds in history were the minds of people who were interested in a variety of subjects and yet today those people would cause their friends and family members to roll their eyes and tell them to focus and stop being a dilettante. I have heard that so many times that it long ago ceased to be amusing. You see, I’m not nearly as smart as Leonardo, but my mind does work in a similar way. Over the years I have studied religions, music, physics, psychology, nursing, literature, sociology, jazz music, Asian cinema, and cognitive neuroscience, personal development psychology, gardening and the list goes on and probably will keep going on. My brain is constantly curious, constantly looking forward to the next interesting thing. Where others are quite happy studying the same thing for three years and then making a career out of it I lose interest within a year and want to bawl at the thought of making it my life. This has led to a lot of problems. It has led to people losing patience with my wandering interests, sighing when I talk about them, demanding to know when I am going to grow up and be practical and focus. It has led to me feeling like there was something wrong with me, maybe ADHD or something that needed to be fixed.
But there isn’t.
Learning about Scanning, or whatever you want to call it, made me cry. It made me realise there was nothing wrong with me, my brain was just designed differently. It wanted a constant influx of knowledge and new information, it wanted to understand the world. It wanted to understand everything. The idea of learning about and working in one field for the rest of my life is terrifying to me and that’s okay. That’s just the way I am and if it was good enough for Leonardo…
But the real takeaway here isn’t that being a scanner is great, although it is and I recommend it if you swing that way. The real take away is that I was okay the way I was. It’s hard sometimes, when you deviate from the norm, to feel as if your way is okay. When you have no role models around you and when everyone who is around you is telling you there is something wrong with the way you function it can be hard to feel comfortable with yourself.
And that’s what we all want, deep down, isn’t it?
So I’m telling you about scanners in the hopes that it might show just one person that they’re okay the way they are. These ideas, these approaches to life, they helped me and now I’m offering them in the hopes that they might help someone else.
And if they don’t, if you don’t’ see yourself in the descriptions I give, then I just hope my wanderings will encourage someone to do some exploration themselves and find the ideas that do resonate, that do work for them.
And then come back here and let me know. I’m always looking for new things that might apply to my life and personality.
Thanks for listening.