- Chapter 29 -
THE INFLUENCE OF TEMPERAMENT
ON VOCATIONAL CHOICE
he most important consideration in choosing one's life's work, and the one most frequently overlooked, is temperament. Each one of us is unique, but people do share some qualities of temperament, though to different degrees and in different combinations. These temperament qualities strongly influence our relationships, our preferences in life in many ways, the kind of work we enjoy, and the kind we do well.
On a fairly regular basis I give lectures on Entrepreneurship. I delight in telling audiences that I turned down a free Harvard Law School education. After seeing the look of amazement on the faces of the audience, I proceed to give a full account. My mother always wanted me to pursue this course based on the fact that - and this is probably a remark that only those of us who went through the Depression can understand - "No Harvard Law School graduate ever had to walk the streets looking for a job." Without complete conviction, after I got out of the Army in l945, under very competitive circumstances, I applied and was admitted. Furthermore, based on the "G.I. Bill", that is support for education for veterans, Uncle Sam would have paid for it. Then I throw in another shocker, "And it was one of the best decisions I ever made."
The point is that I would not have been a good lawyer. I am too restless and I get too many intervening thoughts to be good at research. Furthermore, lawyers spend much of their time involved in controversy, and I hate controversy. My abilities and enjoyment lie along the lines of imaginative new ideas, and imaginative and new ideas are not encouraged in the law. It is the old ones - the precedents - that count. Of course, it takes great skill to research preceding cases and to use the proper ones to prove one's case, but it is a different skill from dreaming up business ideas.
In a sense I lucked out because I was acting intuitively and without much guidance. Fortunately, there are ways, now, in which a person can analyze, or get help analyzing, one's temperament and take advantage of the direction which such an effort can yield in choosing a vocation.
A great help in this regard is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which, through a series of simple questions of choice, identifies predominant characteristics and also the combination of characteristics for an individual. It categorizes people in terms of: 1) Extroversion vs. Introversion, 2) Thinking vs. Feeling, 3) Intuition vs. Sensation, and 4) Judging vs. Perceiving. Since there are four elements of choice, with two possibilities in each case, there are sixteen potential combinations. If you have never been introduced to this, it may sound complicated, but the test is very simple, as is determining each person's combination. The test results are followed by a description of each of the sixteen types, and when one finds the applicable type, genuine amazement usually results. Responses I have heard, as well as similar ones, are: "Uncanny," "I can't believe they could learn so much about me," "He must have been following me around."
One of the amusing results is that people usually like their types and think that everybody, if given a choice, would choose the same thing. I know of some engineers who felt that if others did not come out the same way, they "flunked."
You cannot flunk, as there is no passing grade. In learning about your temperament it is just a confirmation that you are a unique individual, a special person in your own right.
Temperament testing is helpful in choosing a vocation. For example, the test for Barbara, the social worker to whom I referred in Chapter 28 who counsels pregnant teenage girls, indicated that people of her type "...make outstanding individual therapists." Many similar situations could be cited. People have said, with surprise, as vocational activities are recommended based on their temperament, "Of course, that is what I should be doing."
Temperament testing is valuable in other areas besides vocational choice, for example, understanding family members better. One woman who had been married 27 years said, "I understand my husband for the first time."
Despite the common maxim, "Like attracts like", thousands of tests and matches indicate that people tend to marry others with some opposite characteristics. There seems to be an underlying and unrecognized desire to create a whole in the union. Unfortunately, some spouses, having chosen mates with the appeal of opposite characteristics, rather than benefiting from what differing views can contribute, attempt to change their mates into likenesses of themselves. A good example of the differences in temperament is illustrated when one spouse says, "Why can't you understand how I feel?" and the other's response is, "Why can't you use your head for once?"
With regard to testing for vocational choice, frequently someone has said to me, "Oh, I had a test like that in school." Further inquiry reveals that it was a brief, quickie test, and it is too important in a person's life not to be tested thoroughly. Fortunately, some colleges have established very good services for vocational guidance. But wherever you get help, there is no substitute for a good psychologist with experience in the field.
Note: Temperament testing is too complicated to deal with extensively here, but you can purchase an excellent book on the subject, called Please Understand Me by David Kiersey and Marilyn Bates, from Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble. It can also be ordered from Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, PO Box 2748, Del Mar, CA 92014.