Today I’d like to offer my take on using personality in career exploration, specifically, introversion versus extroversion. In recent years introverts have made a comeback. Introvert-positive articles and web sites are everywhere.
I take it all with a grain of salt, however. I once was asked to take a personality test before I was placed in a temp job. I took the test and was connected with a boss who had my exact match. We hated each other because we were too alike. We had the same weaknesses, and you hire an assistant to do the things you can’t, or don’t, want to do. I was reassigned shortly after that.
If you’re wary of the way personality tests have been used, or if you’ve been burned before like me, I understand how you’d want to avoid the whole issue. Experts have criticized the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a longtime staple in personality assessment, and rightly so.
Why Personality Still Matters
Personality assessments can add a piece to the career exploration puzzle. With clients who identify as introverted, I often find that there is a pattern of ignoring their own needs for quiet, either in their work lives or private lives. In those cases, identifying as an introvert can empower them to make choices based on their own needs.
Personality expert Susan Cain defines introversion by tolerance for stimulation, not shyness, and I agree with her. In an interview with Scientific American, she defines her viewpoint:
“Introverts prefer quiet, minimally stimulating environments, while extroverts need higher levels of stimulation to feel their best. Stimulation comes in all forms – social stimulation, but also lights, noise, and so on.”
This is useful language when discussing work. And it explains why, when I was recently visiting New York City, I felt like I had the flu after walking through Times Square, but recovered nicely after a cup of coffee in a bookstore cafe.
Defining Our Ideal Day
We can ask ourselves, is our work literally too stimulating or not stimulating enough? I think this is an interesting question and one that gets my career coaching clients moving in a productive direction. What does the ideal level of stimulation mean to you? New ideas, people and physical locations? Lots of quiet time to design a product or service? Tons of meetings or no meetings? Open floor plan with no assigned workspaces or office with a door that closes?
By updating our thinking on introversion and extroversion, we can start to picture our ideal work day, something many people skip. This is so valuable, and yet I find that people are afraid to do it. We’ll never get what we want, they say. That’s being too picky. But if you don’t do it, you leave it up to others to define your work.
A New Approach to Balance
It also gives you some ideas for balancing work and the rest of your life. You can choose an stimulating career as an introvert, but then you can build quiet time into the rest of your life to balance it. We spend too little time thinking about how our work life and personal life intersect.
If you ignore personality, or chalk it all up to just another version of a tarot card reading, you run the risk of putting yourself on a hamster wheel of self improvement. Much of corporate America favors extroverts who love stimulation, constant interruption and daily meetings. Yes, it’s great to choose a career that stretches you, but if you’re always trying to push yourself to process more stimuli, more noise or conflict, then you do yourself a disservice. Personal growth is great, but life shouldn’t feel like a constant push to be something you’re not.
So personality can be one piece of the overall puzzle. Used with discretion, it can give us another piece to fit into the mix.
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