This is the third part in a series exploring how best to engage in a world with unequal resources. If you haven’t read Part 1, you can do so by clicking HERE.
“If you know your enemy, and know yourself, you need not fear one hundred battles”
The Big Five
Personality is one of the most diverse and intriguing areas of scientific exploration and has been the subject of many conflicting studies over the years. That being said, I am not a psychologist, but there are certain basic assumptions about our differences in personality:
- We all have different and dynamic personalities
- These personalities are better suited for different tasks
The Big Five personality traits, otherwise known as the Five Factor Model (FFM), is a way in which psychologists have organized different personalities based on English language descriptors. While this is one way that psychologists organize personalities, it is by no means the only way and merely serves as a useful starting point in our discussion of leverage and personality. The Big Five traits follow the acronym OCEAN, and are Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. The traits are somewhat self-explanatory, but to provide more clarity, I’ve included Wikipedia definitions below:
Openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious). Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. Openness reflects the degree of intellectual curiosity, creativity and a preference for novelty and variety a person has. It is also described as the extent to which a person is imaginative or independent and depicts a personal preference for a variety of activities over a strict routine. High openness can be perceived as unpredictability or lack of focus, and more likely to engage in risky behaviour or drug taking. Also, individuals who have high openness tend to lean towards being artists or writers in regards to being creative and appreciative of the significance of the intellectual and artistic pursuits. Moreover, individuals with high openness are said to pursue self-actualization specifically by seeking out intense, euphoric experiences. Conversely, those with low openness seek to gain fulfillment through perseverance and are characterized as pragmatic and data-driven—sometimes even perceived to be dogmatic and closed-minded. Some disagreement remains about how to interpret and contextualize the openness factor.
Conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. easy-going/careless). A tendency to be organized and dependable, show self-discipline, act dutifully, aim for achievement, and prefer planned rather than spontaneous behavior. High conscientiousness is often perceived as stubbornness and obsession. Low conscientiousness is associated with flexibility and spontaneity, but can also appear as sloppiness and lack of reliability.
Extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved). Energy, positive emotions, surgency, assertiveness, sociability and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others, and talkativeness. High extraversion is often perceived as attention-seeking and domineering. Low extraversion causes a reserved, reflective personality, which can be perceived as aloof or self-absorbed. Extroverted people tend to be more dominant in social settings, as opposed to introverted people who may act more shy and reserved in this setting.
Agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. challenging/detached). A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others. It is also a measure of one’s trusting and helpful nature, and whether a person is generally well-tempered or not. High agreeableness is often seen as naive or submissive. Low agreeableness personalities are often competitive or challenging people, which can be seen as argumentative or untrustworthy.
Neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident). Neuroticism identifies certain people who are more prone to psychological stress. The tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, and vulnerability. Neuroticism also refers to the degree of emotional stability and impulse control and is sometimes referred to by its low pole, “emotional stability”. A high stability manifests itself as a stable and calm personality, but can be seen as uninspiring and unconcerned. A low stability expresses as a reactive and excitable personality, often very dynamic individuals, but they can be perceived as unstable or insecure. Also, individuals with higher levels of neuroticism tend to have worse psychological well being.
(For the purposes of this article as well as general self-awareness, I highly recommend taking a Big Five Personality Test. If you’re interested in getting a rough reading of where you shake out, you can visit either here or here or Google “Big Five Personality Test”)
Each of us sits somewhere on all five of these traits since they manifest themselves on a spectrum from high to low to everything in the middle. To be rephrased within the context of this series, we each have different personality resources that can be leveraged towards our success. We are not all the same when it comes to our personality, and consequently, we are not all the same when it comes to the advantages and disadvantages of our personality.
If you are high in extraversion, you would most likely have the advantage in jobs that require networking with a lot of people. If you are low in agreeableness, you may be a tougher negotiator. Understanding the realities, limits, and advantages of your personality is the key to being able to leverage it.
Square Peg, Meet Round Hole
Mismatches arise when your circumstances do not reflect your personality. This can stem from internal pressures or societal pressures as the world becomes more and more open. For example, it seems like every white girl on Instagram is a self-described “free-spirit” (what I would roughly characterize as high in openness to experience, and high in extraversion).
Free Spirits are cool.
Free Spirits are hip.
If you aren’t traveling the world, living your dream, hanging with your many many friends, and doing goat yoga, are you really living? It isn’t uncommon at all to meet some of these wanderlusters in person and find a much more introverted personality than what you were expecting.
I’m always skeptical when someone tells me about themselves. It isn’t that I think they’re lying. It’s that one’s self-appraisal is more often than not a representation of how they want to see themselves as opposed to an honest assessment.
The truth is, external pressures have a big part to play in us mismatching ourselves. Who we want to see ourselves as is almost never the same as who we actually are. Consequently, we make decisions solely based on who we wished we were without factoring in the character traits we want to overlook. These personality mismatches can be crippling when it comes to life choices:
-The highly agreeable person who needs to get out of a controlling relationship, but is too concerned with their partner’s feelings to pull the trigger (figuratively speaking, of course).
-The introvert who took a job as a sales representative, but isn’t comfortable meeting new clients (or people for that matter).
-The sensitive/nervous waiter who mentally shuts down during every moderately busy shift at the restaurant.
Out of pressure, we force the square peg into the round hole, overlooking the opportunities in which our personality could excel. This inevitably becomes an inefficient use of our Time and leads to severe dissatisfaction.
As discussed in Part 1 in regard to maneuver warfare, this series is all about exploiting gaps, or vulnerabilities, by exerting our strength against it. In this case, we have to understand the strengths of our personality in order to exploit the gaps in the marketplace and find meaningful ways to spend our time. This requires an honest self-evaluation, and ideally, a few sobering evaluations from those closest to us (Leveraging your relationships). In the process, we may excavate a few nuggets of long-buried, hard truths.
Not all of us are “people people”. Not all of us enjoy taking control of situations. Not all of us are disciplined. Not all of us are “free spirits”.
Take an honest look at your personality advantages and leverage them to where they’ll do the most work for you. It’s not enough to identify your strengths, you have to embrace them. For instance, let’s say you are confident, ambitious, and extroverted. A career in public relations would be a great fit for you. You will also have a greater ability to leverage your personality towards acquiring more productive friendships, a valuable resource that will be further discussed down the road.
Or, if you aren’t as outgoing, but rather more disciplined and curious, a career in engineering may be suitable. If you know you are high in conscientiousness (efficient/organized) and high in neuroticism (sensitive/nervous), consider capitalizing on that in a career where that is valued. Don’t pretend to be the laid back guy who breaks the rules but always ends up right. That probably isn’t you. It’s more likely the person you wish you were.
For all of our strengths, we have weaknesses. And while we have a strong tendency to ignore those weaknesses, it’s a strategy doomed for disaster. We may be moody or irrational. We may be hyper-skeptical or passive-aggressive. These negative attributes have devastating implications for relationships and careers. Leveraging the strengths of our personality will do us no good if our weaknesses aren’t guarded against. Recognize these detractors and find ways to keep them in check.
Attempts to build the world in our image are futile. The only person we can truly control is ourselves. Once we see ourselves clearly, we can choose the proper environments to leverage our strengths to their full potential.