How To Figure Out Who You Really Are


Sunday, 7.34pm

Sheffield, U.K.

You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do. – Henry Ford

Choosing what you do with your time is one of the most important decisions you will ever make.

Yet many of us are required to make key choices early in life – from the point at which we choose what to study in school to the opportunities we come across when first looking for work.

How many of us started a job that was supposed to last a few weeks and then found ourselves at the same organisation a decade later?

What advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you now know?

This is a hard question to answer, for me anyway, because we don’t know what could have happened if we had made different choices.

One of the early contributors to career development theory was John Holland, an American psychologist and Professor of Sociology.

He came up with the idea that what you do is an expression of who you are – and came up with six types of personality – a formulation called Holland’s Hexagon.

These six types have the following characteristics:

  • Realistic people like to get things done.
  • Investigative types like to think and watch and understand stuff – working alone rather than in groups.
  • Artistic personalities are creative, inventive and more emotional than the others.
  • Social people are helpful and want to build supportive, caring relationships.
  • Enterprising types want to persuade and lead, be in charge and win.
  • Conventional types look for structure and order and want to do things the right way.

You aren’t, however, just one of the types – instead you’re probably a combination with three or so types that you could list in rank order.

For example, you might be primarily an investigative type, who likes getting things done and persuading people, who also likes creative activities.

The main application of Holland’s work has been in career development advice – once you select from the types and get an ordering that describes your preferences – you can then look for careers and jobs that match that list.

The idea is that there is a job that will work for every combination.

You just have to find the match.

The other way of looking at this model is to look at what you do right now – what you’ve been doing for the last month or year and see if your preferences describe your activity.

The chances are good that if you’ve been in work for a while what you do lines up with who you are.

If not, that’s probably why you’re not that happy at work.

Or, on the other hand, you don’t mind the work at all.

In fact, you enjoy it – but it’s the other things about the job that get you down.

The workload, the micro-management, the bullying, the pressure… perhaps a host of other factors.

The appeal of Holland’s model is its simplicity – you can relate to the divisions easily and have a quick view on how you might describe yourself using it.

What the model doesn’t take into account is important too – things like power dynamics, culture, the availability of resources, politics, and personal rapport with colleagues.

In the end, knowing who you are is a start.

A good one.

But very quickly you realise that what matters is who everyone else is and what game they’re playing.

So that requires us to develop the ability to constantly rebuild ourselves over time – to constantly learn and watch and observe.

Because the world is changing – like it always has done.

Our ability to prosper in that changing world will depend on how we see ourselves in it – how we create meaning and purpose and value for ourselves and others.

That means you need to be ready to recreate who you are, to match the needs of what is around you.

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