There are two questions that can set me in a tailspin faster than gas through a Hummer:

1. What is your favorite (fill in the blank)? (color, food, team, facial-wax product…)
2. What do you do [for a living]?

On any given day, my answer to the first question will be different because I just can’t decide and I’ll spend countless hours in torture, wondering if I gave the right answer.

I respond to the second with “I am a life coach”, but when it comes to expounding on my area of expertise, I stutter like Porky Pig on peanut butter. After nearly six years of coaching, I have not “claimed a niche”.

Niche. It’s a funny little word upon which nobody can agree how to pronounce. Is it “neeesh”? Is it “nitch”? Whatever. It means a place, employment, status, or activity for which a person or thing is best fitted (finally found her niche); or a specialized market.

Alan Wolfe, New York Times Book Review (1/7/01) wrote, “To succeed in this new world, you have to sell yourself. You go to a brand-name college, not to imbibe the wisdom of its professors, but to make impressions and connections. You pick a niche that can bring attention to yourself and then develop your personal public relations efforts to let the world know who you are.”

Hmmmm. What about me? I didn’t go to college. But I went through coach certification (and master coach certification, and relationship coach certification). Surely, I should have a niche!

My mentor-guru-teacher-trainer Martha Beck said you can find your purpose in one of two ways:

1. Where your gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
2. From your own life experiences: Think of the worst thing that has happened to you. Then go help people with that thing.

Beck said you can help people if you’ve “been to hell and back.” If you’ve overcome major obstacles in your life, you have something to teach. In coaching lingo, your “hell-and-back” becomes your gift and your “niche”.

I’ve certainly had my share of hell-and-backs: a string of rotten romantic relationships, issues about time, parenting, self-esteem and self-image, narcissistic bosses, and don’t get me started about my mother. I’ve coached clients on each of these issues and have done a damn good job – so they’ve told me. But niche? Yeeeesh! The word still made me feel as comfortable as a nail in a can of Coke. None of my hell-and-backs’ fully resonated as my real pain. To choose one as a specialty felt disingenuous.

And that’s when I discovered my real pain. My real hell-and-back.

Despite all of the “perils of Sheila” mentioned above, the greatest pain that I never expressed (even to my family and closest peeps) was the guilt and shame I felt for not being able to decide. For not having a clear vision of the one thing I want to do or whom I want to serve. I never wanted to specialize in anything for more than a short time. I didn’t go to college because that would mean choosing a major. I skipped from job to job, hobby to hobby, sport to sport, looking for the one thing that would make me happy and make me appear “successful” to the outside world. I thought I’d found “it” about a million times, only to unfind “it” again and again. The amount of shame and self-loathing I suffered over thinking that I SHOULD be focused could fill the Grand Canyon ten times over. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t belong. I wasn’t “one of them.” And everyone was waiting for me to show up and do something big. Something worthy.

I COULD NOT claim a niche. And moreover, I simply didn’t want to. In Alan Wolfe’s world – I would never be successful. I was doomed to live in mediocrity – a place I fear more than Walmart on Halloween.

Eerie how easy it was to not acknowledge this as real pain and suffering. It never occurred to me that “not being able to choose” was my albatross. Until, that is, I read a book that brought me home faster than Dorothy clicking her red heels. The book is Barbara Sher’s “Refuse to Choose! – Use All of your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams”. Yes, another self-help book among hundreds I’ve read, but I sobbed as if I were reading “Gone With The Wind”. I found my Tara at last!!

Briefly, Sher’s book describes a personality (MY personality!) she refers to as Scanners:

1. Scanners are genetically wired to be curious, multi-talented, have many interests, learn quickly, be very smart, and want to do it all! They have no choice but to be this way. It would be like telling Buddha not to be wise or George Clooney not to be dreamy.

2. There is NOTHING WRONG with Scanners. It’s just the rest of the world that is caught in the dreaded thinking that we all “SHOULD” be focused and do one thing and finish everything we do. Truth be told, we Scanners freakin’ ROCK!

3. If Scanners can let go of the shame and judgment of not choosing and accept and appreciate themselves for the awesome multi-talented people they truly are, they can be uber-successful in business and in life. It just takes a few adjustments. Or not. Benjamin Franklin was a true Scanner and dare I say, highly successful.

To say this discovery, this permission to be myself, was radically eye opening, enlightening, and soul freeing would be an understatement of epic proportion.

Guilt and shame exited my body like cleansing sweat after running a decades-long marathon. And the healing inner-voice of confirmation sang its repetitive chorus so loudly and playfully that I couldn’t keep from dancing. “There is nothing wrong with you – and there never was.”

I’m out, ladies and gentlemen. I am a full-blooded, true-blue Scanner. I am a multi-talented, intensely knowledgeable, fast learning, curious, varied interest, idea machine who wants to DO IT ALL! And I LOVE that about me!!!

I’m clear about my hell-and-back. My gladness and the world’s deep hunger have met.

And I’m passionate about helping other Scanners uncover, discover and become a lover of who they are so they can bring their true gifts to the world without guilt or shame.

Would I call that a niche?

Please. Don’t make me choose.

If you are interested in learning more about Scanners or joining our community, email me at and/or join the Facebook Group @Sheilas Playground. You can also sign up for my newsletter at Thanks! I can’t wait to meet you!


  1. Sandi Shroads on March 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Hi Sheila. Great post! I attended the 2012 MBI Summit and practically had a nervous breakdown trying to decide on an Integration Track! Clearly, I should have been in yours! 🙂 I even had one of my coach buddies do “the arm thing” with me to try and help me decide. I have chronic difficulty making decisions, and the idea of “choosing a niche” makes me want to break out in hives! Thank you SSSSSOOOO much for permission and encouragement to “Refuse to Choose” (which I shall reread immediately while simultaneously reading “What the Walrus Knows” and “A Whole New Mind”)!

    Big hugs,
    Sandi (MBI LCT Jan. 2011 Graduate and Budding Entrepreneur)

    • Sheila Whittington on March 22, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      Sandi! Sister!!! Thanks so much!! You are not alone, darlin’!! Join us on the Sheilas Playground group. There is much we can accomplish – if we choose to!!


  2. Mackie Schaars on March 22, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Oh Sheila! I adore you and your wisdom! I know I’m a Scanner, but hadn’t connected it with my inability to DECIDE on a neeeshhhe/nihtche. 😉 Thanks for articulating what’s been rambling around in my mind!

    • Sheila Whittington on March 22, 2012 at 10:31 pm

      Thanks for your kind words, and welcome to the club, Mackie! So glad to meet yet another Scanner 🙂


  3. Barb Cunningham on March 23, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Well put Sheila!! Thanks for validating me today. Blessings!

    • Sheila Whittington on March 23, 2012 at 11:45 am

      Thanks Barb!! Feel free to join my Facebook page @sheilas playground. The Scanners are gathering!

  4. Anne Marie Rowe on March 23, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Hi Shelia,
    I was in your group on Thursday and then saw you briefly off and on the next few days. I had never heard the word Scanner before and quite frankly didn’t pay it much attention except just to wonder what it meant….until Wednesday night in a post on FB. I remembered hearing someone at the Summit say that you “are one” so I looked you up. Thanks for this post and I am reading Refuse to Choose now. I will find the playground too. Once again, I find myself saying that I am so thankful to find more people like me. Thanks for coming out so we Scanners can unite!! BTW, I feel like we are all characters in a Sci-Fi movie!! 🙂

    Big hugs and Much gratitude,
    Anne Marie

    • Sheila Whittington on March 23, 2012 at 11:48 am

      Hi Anne! I think I had no choice but to “come out”. Everyone was ON to me!!! LOL! BTW – I’ve always felt like a character in a Sci-Fi movie. It makes like much more fun, doesn’t it?


  5. Anne Marie Rowe on March 23, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Well…no one was onto me. They just made fun of me and always found fault with my not being able to stick to one thing and having so many interest. So, I felt like there was always something wrong with me! Feeling much better now and able to let up on myself some. Looking so forward to learning how to get more done now!! Yep, I have always felt like I was living in a Sci-Fi movie too!!

  6. Helen Samson Mullen on March 26, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Thank you Sheila for your brilliant and engaging talk at the summit and for this great article (I love how you write – so fun!). It’s so great to feel a new normal and leave the niche drama behind. Thanks for helping me accept and embrace my scanner self. Much love, Helen

    • Sheila Whittington on March 27, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Thank YOU, Helen!! So happy to help people be who they are!!!

  7. Andrea Ballard on March 27, 2012 at 6:50 am

    I already knew I was a scanner…and yet I keep trying to apply non-scanner rules to my business. THANK YOU for the reminder to honor the scanner in me. Now I am having fun again! I’ll never forget your face and tone of voice when someone in the session asked “But what do I say I do when people ask me?” and you leaned forward and said “Whatever you damn well want.”

    • Sheila Whittington on March 27, 2012 at 9:00 am

      Yay, Andrea! Thanks so much for your kind words. So glad your having FUN again! FUN is my FAVORITE THING!!!

  8. Laura Canale on March 28, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    Hi Sheila! WOW. I found you from a fellow coach and scanner Anne Marie. I was just saying to another coaching friend 5 days ago, “What is wrong with me, other people have a thing, why don’t I have a thing?” I am not even done with coach training and have been feeling a little like the shine is off the penny, arrgghhh. Here we go again was what kept coming up.

    Thanks so much for a very well written description of me;) Can’t wait to read the book and hopefully get in on the call you are doing. I might be learning to play the alto saxaphone that day…we shall see;)


    • Sheila Whittington on March 28, 2012 at 9:16 pm

      Alto Sax? Sounds interesting…..maybe I should…WAIT!!! LOL!!!

      Thanks so much, Laura! There is NOTHING wrong with you!!! So glad you’ve discovered that. Hope you can make the call, but the Alto Sax sounds pretty inviting. Join us at @Sheilas Playground on FaceBook too! Lot’s of good stuff brewing 🙂


    • Kelly Pratt on April 3, 2012 at 10:19 am

      Laura, you are amazing and I cannot wait to see what you come up with next!

  9. Kelly Pratt on April 3, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Hello, I’m Kelly, and I’m powerless over my scanner-ness!
    In fact i love that about me… it’s taken me a long time to embrace, and being in that room in AZ with all those lovely other scanner-esses I felt like I’d come home.
    In my career I’ve been a dancer in a jazz company, a box office manager, a producer, a location scout, a production manager, a film commissioner, a theatre director, a designer of homes, owner of a construction company, I’ve managed credentials at a music festival, a publisher and a database designer, a fundraiser, a nonprofit manager – oh, and now I’m a Life/Creativity coach… oh, yeah, and I’m designing journals… let’s see, what have I forgotten!
    … yes i’m powerless over my scanner-ness 🙂 AND THAT’S OK!!!

    You know that phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none”? I think scanners are actually master of quite a few! That’s why we want to move on… we’ve MASTERED are are ready for some thing new… tell me where I’m wrong!


    • Sheila Whittington on April 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm

      Hey Kelly!

      You go, Scanner Girl!!! I love that you totally embrace your inner Scannerdom! You are a true Rock Star, Kelly! My wish is that every Scanner can see the beauty-that-is-them and ROCK IT like you are!!!


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