Although all paid work involves toil and difficulty, it would be nice if we didn’t hate our jobs; if our strengths aligned somewhat with what we were doing; if we had something of the right personality to succeed there — or at least not fail.
Often, we focus too much on strengths, and should focus more on weaknesses: don’t go into a field that hinges critically on something you hate or are bad at, even if you love some other aspect of it. Similarly, having the right kind of motivations will carry you through some rough patches — which are inevitable.
The Seven Traits
I like to think of seven personal traits that individuals have to varying degrees. These are a mix of motivations, tendencies, and abilities; but they all matter for what kind of jobs we align to (at least in the developed world). We could assign people scores, but I think ranking them is often enough.
Practicality: The orientation and motivation to get real things accomplished in the real world, particularly in a physical sense, on a personal level and as part of what a team or organization is doing.
Reasoning: Logic and analytical thinking, of the king you get formally through education. Could be mathematical, or not.
Meticulousness: This is much more than paying attention to details — because many people can do that — but is specifically about being a stickler: about being very concerned with getting things done the right way; removing all errors, and generally putting everything in its place.
High Purpose: This is the motivation of thinking you are working toward a good cause; of doing something good in the world. But it may be oriented more toward avoiding evil, and not working for anyone who’s evil either.
Competitiveness: This isn’t just about climbing a corporate ladder to make a certain salary: many kinds of competition exist. There is competition just to be the best; to prove to everyone how good or smart or original you are — or that you wouldn’t be kept down by, for instance, being a woman.
Creativity: Openness to new ideas, and the tendency to try things: to experiment, come up with ideas, try new combinations, and not be satisfied with standard methods. Not restricted to artistry per se.
People Interaction: How much do you want to see people, and talk with them, and learn about their lives, and then even convince them of something? There’s always some in your team, probably, but this is more about clients, vendors, and other stakeholders.
Examples of Key Traits in Jobs
I think it’s pretty self-evident how many jobs may typically value a few of these traits more than others. A few examples:
Machinist: Practicality, Meticulousness
Nurse: Meticulousness, High Purpose, Practicality
Lawyer: Reasoning, Meticulousness, People Interaction
Sales Rep: People Interaction, Competitiveness
Accountant: Meticulousness, Reasoning
Graphic Designer: Creativity, People Interaction/Meticulousness
Teacher: People Interaction, High Purpose, Reasoning
One big trend arises because ours is a society based on documents and data — and standard systems designed to deal with them. Therefore, Meticulousness is important in most white-collar jobs — unless they’re primarily people-oriented instead, such as sales or teaching. This is true in the traditional professions, including law and medicine, as well as a slew of paraprofessionals jobs, including many in tech.
Start With Weakness
Your first step when picking a field should not, I think, be to see what strengths you have and find where they’re valued. Instead, it should be identifying your weaknesses, or dislikes, and making sure you don’t end up somewhere those things matter. If you’re low on meticulousness, do not think of being an accountant. If you need to avoid doing evil, maybe think twice before joining the big corporation that does things you hate.
There are also quite a few cases where a job values a trait to only a middling degree. That is, it’s best not to have too little, or too much of a certain trait. One example is research and creativity: it helps to have some, but if you’re highly creative, you’ll just be frustrated (though maybe hobbies can suffice). Or in some cases, a trait is a real hindrance: a highly practical person will probably never survive in academia.
It’s Not Fair or Balanced
There is nothing close to balance in how often the seven traits are valued or not in our economy: some, such as meticulousness, are simply much more commonly desired; while creativity much less so. Certain combinations are also rare — again to some people’s detriment. On the other hand, a few combinations may be rare in people but very useful in some jobs.
Once you’ve crossed the jobs you’re a mismatch for from your list, I think you can begin to think about your strengths, basic work conditions of the job, and pay.
Realize that many different kinds of people can work in a field or job — particularly because there always some variety to be found: trial lawyers don’t operated quite like corporate patent lawyers, and different traits will be more or less critical. If you’re highly motivated to work in a field, you can probably do so. But if you’re not, and would like to make things easier on yourself — or find where you might actually be happier working — consider the alignments I’ve discussed here.