The book everyone should read (instead of speaking to their school careers advisor)

At this point in my life, early twenties and finally figuring out the path I want to be on, I do feel more than a little frustrated that not once was my personality discussed in meetings with school, or even university, careers advisors. Conversations followed along the lines of “What are you good at [academically]? What do you like [right now]? Well in that case, logically, you should do ___.” In my view that’s just not good enough.

How about “Let’s work out your innate preferences, the things that you truly care about and what’s authentic for you. Then we’ll see if your subject choices and enjoyment of these subjects match up and work out the next step forward based on your own personal values.” We should be so lucky. But what’s so difficult about that?

Being a fan of both careers books and personality theory, the following read is the perfect combination. I’m a strong believer in needing to look much deeper than ‘skills’, ‘interests’ and ‘logic’ to find the right path, and this book does just that.

DowhatyouareFrom personality to profession

(Do what you are, by Tieger and Barron) 

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is essentially based on preferences – it doesn’t try to tell you what you’re good at or experienced in, only where your natural preferences are, and therefore your likely natural strengths.

The authors give a great explanation of MBTI before exploring each type in relation to careers. Each ‘type’ section describes real life examples of people sharing that ‘type’ who have fulfilling careers, before going on to pull out the common themes and suggest not just other careers to consider, but key factors to consider and rank, and even methods of job hunting that might be most effective.

I always like to hear people’s career stories, so unsurprisingly it was the examples that made this such an interesting read for me. Having done a lot of work on figuring out my own path, it was great to read about others doing work that I’d love to do.

The thing I find so fascinating is how different we all really are. While one person might love analysing data sat at a computer and hate the idea of spending time face to face with an individual discussing their problems, someone else might resent time spent putting together spreadsheets but feel passionate about supporting those with mental health issues. When talking about my ideal work, I often find myself saying ‘Yes, but who wouldn’t want to do that?!’ except the answer to that is, a heck of a lot of people!

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Personality patterns

I’ve just read a well-known book on a personality assessment closely associated with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and it’s made me realise just how important it is to accept people as they are without trying to change them to be like ourselves. It’s also made me realise how differently people think, and I hope will help me to understand and accept in future when I don’t get the responses or encouragement I’d like.

To me, understanding people seems so key to everything. And it’s just fascinating. Whether you agree with the Myers-Briggs typing and Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter (explained below) or not, recognising different attitudes and values is important in all areas of life, from career to relationships. I think everyone should read this book – though I do accept that my ‘type’ might make me more interested in this topic than others are!

PUM2I’ll just be me and you can be you

(Please understand me 2: temperament, character, intelligence – by David Keirsey)

So in parts the book is a little bit repetitive and a little bit stereotypical, but only because the author wants each chapter to be understandable when read in isolation and because stereotyping is the clearest way to make his points.

Rather than focussing specifically on each of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, the book focuses on the 4 main groups of types, which Keirsey came up with based on Myers-Briggs and earlier research (hope I don’t lose anyone here, if you’ve never read up on the Myers-Briggs personality types here’s a great place to start: Personality Page). The 4 groups are Artisan, Guardian, Idealist and Rationalist (described here: The Keirsey Temperament Sorter).

I’m an Idealist and can completely relate to this general description. I’m also almost certain I’d class as an introvert and perceiving rather than judging, however I can relate to parts of the descriptions for the other types of Idealist too. What’s most important to me is accepting myself as in the general category of Idealist and understanding myself in relation to those around me.

Career is a big issue for me right now, and this book has really helped to shed light on why I feel so unhappy and inauthentic in my current job and why this bothers me so much. It’s also given me some really interesting career ideas and taught me that I do have something unique to offer that many others don’t. I feel like I’m getting a clearer picture of who I am and who I want to be.

Of course personality types can’t explain everything, but the Myers-Briggs system and Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter do seem to be pretty accurate and well-respected. Even when simply used as an insight into preferences and relationships, they’re a great place to start in exploring and accepting differences.

What is authenticity? Who am I?!

These are the questions I’ve been thinking about recently, but where to even start?

what-if-and-why-notDara over at Good at Life has dedicated this month as Authenticity August and it’s great to read her insights and advice and be inspired (I’d really recommend you take a look if you haven’t come across her blog before). One of her first posts of the month talks about letting go of what people think, and until recently I didn’t realise quite how much I struggle with this.

Often if I have an idea I’ll test it out with others, mention it in conversation, looking for confirmation that it ‘fits’ with who other people think I am, that it’s something they encourage and could see me doing. I shouldn’t be doing this. I think we should listen to others, because it’s important to know how we come across to other people and there are often truths in how others see us. But I don’t think we should ever let this dictate our actions or hold us back. We shouldn’t be looking for approval, only insights to help us to come to our own conclusions and enable us to make our own decisions.

Following a job interview where I was asked “what 3 words would family and friends use to describe you?” I decided to actually ask 3 family members to answer this question. After getting pretty positive answers I also asked them for 3 ‘negative’ words to describe me. Sometimes our ‘weaknesses’ can actually reveal our biggest strengths. The answers provided an interesting insight into how I come across to others, and most of them I’d agree with, at least to a certain extent, though some I think only apply in certain contexts.

Authenticity is accepting the good and the bad, strengths and weaknesses, but it’s not about immediately accepting the opinions of others as facts about ourselves and our characteristics. I guess the opinions of others are actually a pretty good insight into how authentic we’re being – how much the way we act reflects our values and who we truly feel we are.

wavesofdoubtauthenticself

I recently attended a meet-up group to discuss personality types. I’ve always found this sort of thing interesting but meeting and learning about the different types was just fascinating.

I’d always thought my type was INFP but, never having done an official Myers-Briggs test, I spoke to some knowledgeable members of the group about this, and was surprised at the suggestion that I could possibly be an ENFP as these types are very close. I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert, and after some more thought I’m almost certain I am, but it’s surprising how much influence your environment can have on who you think you are.

Maybe we’re not necessarily who we’ve grown up to believe we are. We might have to dig a little deeper to find our true authentic selves.

For a more full and detailed explanation of authenticity have a look at what Kevin Rafferty has to say: What is authenticity? and Connecting to your authentic self

The 4 career-searching personalities

LongleatMaze_ROW2078107117_20100808

I’ve been thinking about different attitudes to building fulfilling career paths, and I’ve come up with these 4 categories:

Decided Undecided
Starter Know where they want to be and on the path to get there Don’t know but are exploring options proactively and linking interests
Settler Know but unsure how and/or unwilling to put the work in to get there Don’t know where they want to be and aren’t making an effort to work it out

The decided starter – you know the type, have known since childhood exactly what they want to be without even needing to consider other options out there, usually studying something vocational, e.g. medicine, teaching. These people can be pretty irritating. Who wants to hear from someone who has their whole life planned out and is completely content with their decision? Well actually it is kind of nice to know there are people in this world who know what they’re doing. Good for them.

The undecided starter – now you can’t be annoyed with this type, they don’t have a clue but they’re doing their best to work it out. I’d say these people are pretty inspiring, they admit they’re not perfect but they’re not just sitting back and hoping for the best, they’re out there trying things out and building a path for themselves. And this is one major way in which they differ from decided starters: they’re creating their own path, not following a predefined one.

The decided settler – this type is frustrating, they know what they want to be doing, you know they know what they want to be doing, but they’re not doing it. Why? Fear of failure, lack of encouragement, laziness? Whatever it is it’s not a good enough reason for them to settle for something that’s not on the path to what they really want. You want them to make the effort, to work at their dream, but it feels like they’ve just given up and are simply sitting back and waiting for something to fall into their lap.

The undecided settler – they don’t have a clue, and because of this you do feel for them, finding the right path for yourself isn’t easy. It’s discouraging to come across this type, they seem lost and unsure where to start. But it’s a small step to go from undecided settler to undecided starter.

I know which category I want to be in.

Like it vs Good at it

In the past I’ve written about the distinction between strengths – things you’re innately good at, and skills – things you learn to be good at. But recently I’ve got to thinking, why just stick with the things that come most naturally?

Now I’m naturally quite a quiet, introverted person. Because of this I doubt many people would describe me a ‘people person’, ‘charismatic’ , ‘outgoing’ or the like, but I really enjoy working with people. I guess in a way I’ve taught myself to do small talk and to be comfortable speaking to new people, and I now genuinely enjoy carrying out presentations, no matter what size the audience (a formal presentation is a great chance to speak without anyone else taking over the conversation!). I also really enjoy working in groups – sharing ideas and discussing things with others.

Maybe I have always been good at these things, just a lack of confidence held me back, but maybe some of them are skills that I’ve learnt, rather than strengths that I’ve always had. How do you tell the difference between what you’re naturally good at and what you’ve learnt to be good at? And if you enjoy it, does the distinction even matter?

bebestyouI guess what I’m really getting at here is should we be finding our authentic selves or working at becoming the people we want to be? Or is it possible to do both – are these actually the same things? According to Steve Peters in The Chimp Paradox, who you want to be who you really are, so is life an opportunity to discover yourself… or to create yourself?

I’d been planning on writing about this for a while but yesterday I found a post over at Career Avoidance 101 which is looking at a pretty similar question – Is the search for an authentic self worth the hassle?

And I think yes, it is worth the hassle. While you’re searching for this ‘authentic self’ you’re going to discover so much more – likes/dislikes/strengths/skills – so I’d say life is about discovering your authentic self AND creating the version of that self that you want to be.

The secret to a super career

strengths…Your personality?

As obvious as matching career with personality sounds, I’m not sure it’s so straightforward. Previously I’d thought that by considering my skills and interests and challenges I could take on, that I was essentially taking into account my personality when it came to finding a job I could really succeed at and enjoy, but now I’m not so sure this is the case.

In Free Range Humans (a book on self-employment that I reviewed a few weeks ago in a post titled ‘Dream BIG’), the author, Marianne Cantwell, questions whether skills – things we’ve become good at, are actually strengths – things we enjoy that we also happen to be good at. Marianne talks a lot about playing to your own strengths (which will be closely related to your personality) and not feeling that you have to do it all and be good at everything (i.e. not feeling you have to constantly build new skills and challenge yourself).

In the drive for perfection and success it’s easy to forget the things we’re naturally and effortlessly good at and comfortable with.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet (which I reviewed in my last post) talks a lot about finding a career that suits your personality. There may be things that we really enjoy doing, but only in small doses, and there may be things that we’ve taught ourselves to be very good at, but which are actually a struggle and oppose some of our inbuilt personality traits. Of course we can put on a bit of an act when we have to, but it’s really important that we do still have the time and space just to be ourselves.

Considering where we get our energy, whether from people and action or from alone time and quiet, is really important in keeping up our energy levels. 

I guess the key thing I’ve realised is that I need to make sure I’m focussing on my strengths (as defined by Cantwell), and not just my skills, and to consider where I really get my energy from and make that an active consideration in my job search.

After all, no-one really wants just a job, or even a career in the long term, do they? Aren’t we all ultimately looking for something a little more meaningful? And I would argue that finding this ultimate career/life path is going to mean much more focus on personality, passions, values and strengths, rather than skills, vague interests and considering things you could learn to get better at (i.e. challenges for yourself).

See this great post Job, Career or… Something Else, and it’s reference to an ‘All I want to be…’ statement. And check out 20 signs that you’ve finally found your life’s work not just another career change for more inspiration.

It’s an extrovert’s world

I’ve just finished reading a well-known and well-reviewed book on introversion. It’s funny how I can’t imagine saying directly to anyone that I’m an ‘introvert’ – the word just sounds negative and abnormal due to our culture – but I would imagine that someone could quite easily describe themselves as an ‘extrovert’ with a much more positive reception.

I’ve heard people argue that you can’t separate everyone into one of two categories, yet I think doing so helps us to understand and accept that there are people on both sides of the spectrum and both should be treated equally, without pressure for the quieter ones to conform with the louder majority. Something needs to change in western culture, and I hope that this book is the start of that.

quietWhy we don’t all need to be ‘all-rounders’

(Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, by Susan Cain)

Such a well-researched and well-organised book, and a very interesting read. Some great ideas on different kinds of leadership and work environments – the suggestion that extroverted leaders are better when staff are passive but introverted leaders are better when staff are proactive is a really interesting one, and I personally hate open plan offices as I need my own space.

Cain also covers the nature-nurture debate, explaining how some people are simply born more sensitive to what’s going on around them, and although they can learn to think and act differently as they grow older, those in-built sensitive reactions are still present.

The book also covers cultural differences in personality, specifically comparing America and Asia. While obviously you can’t stereotype whole nations, Americans do seem to prize charisma and speaking out while Asians tend to value quietness and thoughtfulness much more highly as an indication of wisdom.

We definitely need extroverts, introverts and all those in-between; we just need to make sure that all of them are heard and accepted for who they are without pressure to conform.