The secret to career satisfaction, argue authors Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron, lies in doing what you enjoy most. Some people are lucky enough to discover what this is very early in life. I know a woman who at age 12 decided she would be an archaeologist, and proceeded to dig up the family yard. But this was no fleeting childhood aspiration. She went on to obtain a PhD in archeology, learned dead languages, worked on digs all around the world, and has now upgraded from suburban backyards to historic sites across the Middle East.
Not all of us benefit from such early career certainty. Instead we might wind our way through a broad liberal arts education, or an assortment of summer internships, or many taxing years in graduate school, all while asking: What can we do? What should we do? What do we want to do? But the authors of Do What You Are advocate a different approach, nicely summarized in the book’s title, which is to find out who you are, and then do that.
And just how does this book tackle the “who are you” question, one that has perplexed philosophers and hookah-smoking caterpillars alike, in just 400 pages?
Do What You Are bases itself in the work of a mother-daughter team, Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, who nearly 100 years ago neatly divided all of humanity along 4 dimensions and into 16 distinct personality types. Certainly this is an oversimplification, as there are clearly more than 16 types of people. But by focusing on just four basic aspects of human personality, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) hones in on the “who are you” question, and since the 1940s has helped millions of people discover what best motivates and energizes them.
Many of you have likely encountered the MBTI before, and some of you may even know your Type. For those who don’t, the MBTI process is basically a questionnaire that seeks to place you along four different dimensions, as summarized here:
It’s best to take an MBTI with a trained professional, so check your career counseling office to see if they administer the test. You can also find a version of the assessment online, but know that it might not be as reliable. Either way, once you learn which type you are, this book becomes an incredible tool.
The MBTI can be used to explore a number of areas of your life – relationships, child rearing, managerial style, etc., but Do What You Are uses the assessment specifically to address how you should approach your career. The majority of the book is broken down into 16 chapters, each corresponding to one of the 16 Myers-Briggs types.
For each type, you’ll find a thorough breakdown of your strengths. This section of the chapter will probably make you feel pretty good about yourself, as it lists precisely the ways in which you are awesome. You’ll also learn more about how weaknesses specific to your personality type might hinder your job search or performance. Job hunting strategies are customized to fit the strengths of each type and include a detailed plan of action. You’ll also find an organized, lengthy list of occupations popular with people who share your personality type.
What I found most beneficial, though, was a summary of how to find satisfaction in my career. As an ENTJ, I’ll be most fulfilled in a position that “lets me engage in long-range strategic planning, creative problem solving, and the generation of innovative and logical approaches to a variety of problems” and “lets me work with other intelligent, creative, ambitious and goal-oriented individuals whose competencies I respect.”
Here you might be thinking, ok, this sounds just like horoscopes, written generically enough that anyone can see themselves in any description. And just to be sure that’s not the case, I checked out the chapter for my polar opposite, ISFP. For people of this type, career satisfaction means doing work that “gives me an opportunity to experience inner growth and development” and “is done in a quietly cheerful and cooperative setting.” There is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, but it’s just not the best fit for me.
So how can the MBTI help a science graduate student?
Say, for example, you’re a graduate student in a biology lab studying epilepsy, and while you are passionate about the epilepsy field, you haven’t quite found your place. Here, you can use your Myers-Briggs type to guide your path. If you are an ENFP, you likely have natural entrepreneurial tendencies, so maybe you launch a new company with a novel treatment idea. ISTJs appreciate standardized, efficient, and practical work, so if that’s your type maybe you pursue a path as a technical writer for a pharmaceutical company making epilepsy drugs. If ESFJ is your type, you are likely a “people” person, and may find great satisfaction working with patients suffering from epilepsy. After reading this book, you’ll see how who you are can be the deciding factor in what you do.