heliotrope learning

better skills, brighter future

Is variety the spice of life?

There’s no doubt about it – I’m an extravert. Probably in the social sense and, without a doubt, in the sense intended by Carl Jung in his research on personality. This research was built on and expanded by Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, a mother and daughter, who popularised the theory by creating a questionnaire and guidance from World War Two onwards. Their premise was that an understanding of personality type would enable women joining the industrial workplace for the first time to find war-time jobs that were “comfortable and effective” for them (Myers, Isabel Briggs with Peter B. Myers (1995) [1980]. Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality). This research resulted in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which I am accredited to use in discussions and/or training sessions; it remains one of the most widely-used personality diagnostics.

If you’re not familiar with MBTI, you can find out more by looking at any number of websites. There’s a lot of psychological explanation but, essentially, it revolves around understanding people’s preferences for four dichotomies, resulting in a four-letter code summarising their personality type.

One of the dichotomies concerns how people are energised – they can choose between a preference for extraversion and a preference for introversion. In Jung’s terminology, extraversion means “outward-turning” and introversion means “inward-turning”. These specific definitions vary somewhat from the popular usage of the words, where we might say that an ‘extravert’ is someone who may be loud, gregarious, outgoing and friendly whereas an ‘introvert’ may come across as quiet or shy. In overview, extraverted types learn best by talking and interacting with others. By interacting with the physical world, extraverts can process and make sense of new information. In contrast, introverted types prefer quiet reflection and privacy. Information processing occurs for introverts as they explore ideas and concepts internally.

Given all of the above, it seems odd that I should decide to leave a large organisation where I had worked for over twenty years and built up an extensive network to set up my own consultancy with only one employee – me. I need interaction with others; I always enjoyed meetings whether with whole teams or informal catch-ups over the coffee machine. Importantly, those with a preference for extraversion often have a breadth of interests and enjoy variety. Not only that, I work from home in the spare room, so my commute can now be measured in seconds as I go upstairs rather than out of the front door into the external environment that extraverts are drawn to. My decision to leave an organisational structure seems more curious still.

I’m not sure I could have done it in one step, going straight from working full-time to building up my own business. Fortunately, I didn’t have to – I had a year off on maternity leave first. And that gave me time to get used to my own company because, let’s face it, newborns don’t interact that much to begin with. I realised that I was in charge of arranging the variety that I needed; I could decide what interaction I had, who I spoke to and so on. There were some long days, often after interrupted nights, when I felt lost without the structure and support I’d been used to. But I put those down to hormones and fatigue. During that time I realised that, having had to wait so long before finally becoming a mum, I didn’t want to have to work full-time and miss out on some of my son’s development.

Now, I’m able to get the variety I need through different means. Some days I’m working; others I’m not. Sometimes I’m with my son; on other days he’s off at nursery and I’m catching up with the housework. I sing in a local choir and I’m also its treasurer, so I need to take part in rehearsals but also learn the notes in advance on my own; I also have to fit in time to keep the records up to date and do the banking. I’ve started studying for a diploma in executive coaching and mentoring, so there are times when I’m researching the theory or having coaching conversations. I also need time to design new programmes or modules, prepare to present courses or deal with the admin relating to my own business. And then the clients, themselves, are varied too and it’s an enjoyable challenge to provide what each one needs. Having spent my career with one financial services organisation in the private sector, it’s refreshing learning about other businesses in the private as well as the public sector. All in all, it’s a rich – and varied – tapestry. Have you ever considered your personality preferences in this light? Or how it might affect your happiness in your job?