Sunday, March 9, 2014

Introvert / Extrovert: Your Personality Type Should Not choose Your Career

Me. Back in the day. Archivist at the
Waltham Public Library
My head has been caught up in the "right" jobs for the "right" people recently. I'll explain more about that later in this post. But because I've got jobs on the brain, while catching up on archives news and preparing to feed my twitter feed this week, an article caught my eye and kept my attention:
What are the best jobs for introverts?
And low and behold, right between "animal care and service worker" and "astonomer" was "archivist". hmmm...

It seems that our profession is often cited among "best jobs for introverts."  Someone tweeted this in response to my tweet to prove it. Why does this site place archives on this list. "The interaction an archivist has in a workday is typically one-sided in that he or she manages and reviews historical documents for appraisal and safekeeping. Those with a knack for organization and an enjoyment of history should be right at home in the archives."

So, are we really introverts?

Once upon a time I was an introvert with extroverted tendencies fighting to get out. I found a home in archives. I loved the processing and backroom work, but I also loved the reference and administration that brought me in front of people. I loved the collaboration to make strong collections. I loved the interaction, on my terms. And soon, the job prepared me to interact even more. There were opportunities for public speaking engagements and conferences. I took up the extroverted mantle  as much as I could handle and over twenty years, my comfort with it has grown. When the day is over, I like to go home and go for a run on my own or read a good book, rather than out to a bar or to a party. That's what makes me an introvert. When (IF) I go to a conference, I like to speak and leave. Or, speak and then talk to people one-on-one over coffee. Or, sit in the back and listen to someone else present. You probably won't find me mingling in the lobby. I'm too much of an introvert to do that for very long. BUT, I want to be clear about this, it IS NOT the job that helps define me as an introvert.

I know extroverts in this profession. They are the lobby minglers. And, like in almost any profession, there are enough niches that extroverts and introverts can find a place. "Archivist" covers a broad range. You might focus your day in a back room digitizing documents, or you might be the Archivist of the United States who must go around promoting the profession every day, or you might be in a small institution where you need to do the back room work and the face-time.

In my first job, after making a presentation, a well-known person
in town told me, "don't quit your day job." I took that as a challenge.
Speaking in front of people is something that I love to do today.
What bothers me about articles like the ones above that make sweeping generalizations is that they close doors to many young people who may otherwise have considered a career in a particular field. You may like history and historical documents, but you are an extrovert so you don't want to sit in a quiet room all day so you cross archives off your list? NONSENSE!

The age of pigeon-holing who belongs doing what is over. There are so many different kinds of positions and so many different paths we can take. A little over year ago, I spoke with Darla White for the New England Archivists Association newsletter about job opportunities in the field. A few months earlier I had moderated a panel discussion on diverse careers in the field. I am now taking that message to a younger crowd.

This year, in my current position as a high school information specialist, I am helping to break down career stereotyping by running a human library. The human library model was created by Dany Abergel, Asma Mouna and Christoffer Erichsen, while working at the Danish Youth Association "Stop The Violence" in Denmark. "The Human Library is an innovative method designed to promote dialogue, reduce prejudices and encourage understanding"  The human library at my high school is focused on career misunderstanding. Students will have the opportunity to talk to women in the trades, a male librarian, people in the military, engineers who have gone on to do things outside of where they started, and more. The "human books" that are joining us have almost universally had winding career paths. Many have moved totally beyond their original profession. Some have morphed (like me) with their profession and allowed the profession itself to help take them to new and non-stereotypical places. They all have very diverse personalities and lifestyles.

We need to stop making recommendations and seeking jobs based on perceived personality types. How many of us at middle-age are actually the same as we were in our twenties? Mentors need to start bringing interest to the forefront of career decisions. You want to work with horses? Let's explore your career options. How can you make a living doing that? Let's encourage those with a passion for a subject to find a route to employment in that area - to at least see if there is a feasible way to make a living doing that one thing for which a particular person is excited. Instead of saying, "oh no, you do not not want to go into the fashion industry because it's so competitive and you are so quiet!" Say, "let's see what part of the fashion industry might work best for you now. Let's seek people who work in different aspects of the field and see what might work for you now. I have complete faith in you that you will learn about this work and grow and you might even take a different path in the field later in life!" 

Once upon a time, we did the same job for fifty years. Today, we might change jobs within careers or even change whole careers ten times in a lifetime. Let's stop with the silly articles about careers. Let's stop scaring children and ourselves about our potential. Let's promote our capabilities and seek new paths to success.


  1. All I can say is that you rock for posting this! I love it!

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