Forget Know Thy Passion; Know Thyself
It may have all started with Steve Jobs. In his Stanford commencement speech, in reference to his own success as blueprint, Steve Job famously said “…you’ve got to find what you love.”
I can only speak for myself when I say upon hearing that, I looked around at my life and thought,
The millennial career-guidance narrative has been dominated by the idea that to achieve meaning/joy/success in our careers, we should focus on figuring out what we love, what we’re passionate about, and then pursue that with intensity.
I’d like to reframe that conversation and encourage people to focus less on any particular external activity, as often happens, and more on who they are.
This approach makes room for people to pursue a wider variety of careers, including more traditional careers that often don’t come to mind in conversations about passion.
As an example, recently I took an online Myers-Briggs assessment and the result was that I’m an “ENFP.” In reading through the description of my personality type, I was taken aback by how much it resonated. The assessment described ENFPs as free-spirited, creative, systems-thinking communicators that see those systems through a prism of deeper meaning and human experience. The assessment also described other familiar characteristics like fierce independence, thriving in ambiguity, “go with the flow” attitude, and appreciating the limitless options life presents.
I finally felt understood!
As it related to my career, the Ah-ha! moment for me was in the realization that the professional moments throughout my life where I worked joyfully or where it “didn’t feel like work” and where I was able to achieve disproportionate success, were less about that particular job being “my passion” and more so that the work was in alignment with my ENFP preferences and behaviors. That alignment meant that I was motivated to do the work, the work came easily to me, and I was successful because it played to my strengths, all in a self-reinforcing way.
As other opportunities have arisen lately, I’ve been able to evaluate them in a way I never have before by leveraging my ENFP knowledge about myself and asking questions like, would I truly enjoy this task? Does it play to my strengths or require me to skill build? What level of effort will I have to invest to deliver any given work product and be successful?
I also examined my current role and identified the areas of ENFP alignment with the aim of pursuing them in greater force. In other words, how can I do more of the things that I’m motivated to do, work that requires me to do the very things that make me tick, and in that way, derive a great deal of workplace satisfaction for myself.
Workplace Benefits that Come from Knowing Yourself
Understanding who you are, how you’re wired, is a powerful tool for individuals to truly assess what they might enjoy doing, but also, how they might deliver value in the workplace.
While skill-building is certainly important, the things that make you tick, the behaviors that come naturally to you, are likely the behaviors that will drive your success and promotability. In fact, I noticed that the assessment echoed positive professional feedback I’d received over the years regarding my communication skills, big-picture thinking, adaptability, and productivity. This absolutely made sense to me because again, it’s who I am.
Said in another way, these behaviors are my strengths.
Building on that idea, knowing yourself can help you to develop your brand at work. When you truly know yourself and are able to articulate it for others, if it’s accurate, it will click for people and they’ll think of you whenever those skills or behaviors are required.
Knowing yourself also plays an important role in building great teams. Different roles require different behaviors and personality types and by knowing yours, you can learn to leverage your strengths, manage your areas of opportunity, and importantly, surround yourself with people who are wired differently than you such that your team has all the necessary components to succeed — the strategic thinker, the doer, the logistician.
The exercise also moves us from the concept of teamwork to shared leadership. There are some things I’m good at and have a preference for, and some things I’m not so good at or don’t have a preference for, but guess what, someone else does! The best thing for me to do is let that person lead in their domain.
Lastly, I’d point out that knowing yourself and others also inspires greater empathy and inclusivity in organizations. When you know how someone is wired to behave, you’re less likely to take their behavior personally — you know it isn’t about you, that’s just the way that person is programmed. For example, introverts may get annoyed at the way extroverts talk to fill the silence, but an extrovert’s talkativeness isn’t meant to disturb; extroverts simply process thoughts out loud. Knowing that, introverts may feel less annoyed by their talkative colleague and more compelled to listen to capture their ideas.
We All Contain Multitudes
The Myers-Briggs is one approach and it isn’t meant to box you in to a particular way of being. It suggests a person’s preferences and typical behaviors. Further to that, each person is at a different place on the Myers-Briggs scale between the opposing types, further driving our unique approaches. And, while I don’t yet have a PhD in psychology, I have to imagine that all of us are all things at one time or another. Most of us, if required, are competent enough to take on styles and behaviors that don’t come naturally to us.
All that said, I’d posit that if you can spend time learning yourself, you may more easily identify work that will bring you the joy, meaning, and success you seek because it is congruent with who you are as an individual. And it won’t be about any particular external activity, but something more intrinsic than that, and importantly, more accessible — you!