March 1, 2011
Is Personality Destiny?
Many writers and editors identify themselves as introverts. Consequently they often become intimidated, in some cases petrified, by the "social" requirements of writing and editing. They think they have limited resources available to them to compete in the often extroverted world of publishing. They absolve themselves from the responsibilities of championing their projects or interacting with readers. They think (or act like) personality is destiny.
Every now and then some bogus article or expert comes along and says something similar about how our DNA controls our lives—health, marriage, education, career and so forth. Fortunately, other articles and experts come along to put the kibosh on such nonsense.
There is some truth to the whole business, of course. DNA can make certain, especially health-related, possibilities more or less likely. The reason, I think, that the idea of DNA-domination often has such appeal and is applied way beyond its legitimate usefulness is that such notions can absolve us of responsibility. (“My DNA made me do it!”) We can relax with the soothing lie that we just can’t do anything about it (whatever “it” may be).
Personality tests can have the same effect. “I’m wired a certain way. I can’t help it.” While the first sentence may be true, the second isn’t. Just because you are an extrovert, doesn’t mean it’s impossible to sit quietly, contentedly and thoughtfully alone in a room. It may be harder for you than for others, but it can still be (and should at least occasionally be) done.
Even the widely disseminated Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which rates people on four sets of dichotomies, emphasizes that we are always a mix of psychological preferences--not purely a Thinker (T) or Feeler (F), not simply a Judger (J) or Perceiver (P). Thinkers feel and Feelers think; Judgers can be perceptive, and Perceivers can be judicious. And it is important that we benefit from all aspects of our personality. That's what makes us human.
The truth is, introverts have extroverted abilities waiting to be tapped. They can in fact research a topic by taking the initiative to talk to real people. They can acquire a book even though it may mean making small talk at gatherings of perhaps (wait for it) dozens of people in one room.
The good news is that passion and energy for the ultimate goal is the key, not personality type. In Chicago, when it comes to running for mayor, we call it, "Having the fire in the belly." If you want to contract great books badly enough or dig up the information for great articles badly enough, the door to success is open. People work outside of their dominant behavior patterns all the time when there is some aspiration driving them sufficiently to overcome the inertia their personalities can cause.
There's a lot of great work out there about the value and importance of working out of our strengths. So most of the time we probably should do that. But if our desire to use our strong points is intense, we can and will use other abilities if that's what's necessary to successfully exercise our strengths. Our DNA may not be the determining factor, but our determination may be.