Do people really change? Or do we become more of who we already are?
This weekend I read something in Go Put Your Strengths to Work, 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Performance by Marcus Buckingham that got me thinking:
In it he argued that people don’t change their personality. He went so far as to say that the idea that people change their personality over time is a myth (and a harmful one at that). The personality they have as a child is the one that they live with their entire life and only their outward behavior changes. In it he tells us when we change our behavior we become more of who we have been all along. His intention in saying this is to give the read a feeling of power or control, which I appreciate.
But I have been pondering this point since Saturday.
In the past 7 years I have changed dramatically. There are only a handful of people I am close to who can actually say they “knew me when.” Most of my good friends have come into my life in the past 3-4 years, and they will attest to the significant changes they see in me. In all honestly there are only 1 or 2 people who actually knew me during the first few years after my divorce, people who truly know the magnitude of my transformation.
When I read Saturday that we become more of who we have been all along, I started to think of it in terms of my past 7 years. Honestly I like the idea of becoming more of who we are. I understand his point and I think it’s an interesting question.
Has my personality changed?
The definition of personality according to dictionary.com:
1. the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual.
2. the organized pattern of behavioral characteristics of the individual.
By this definition my personality has certainly changed. I have changed in every one of these categories actually.
- I am stronger and more physically fit than I have ever been, even as a teenager.
- I have changed the way I think, the way I approach challenges. I have learned more in the past few years than I did the prior 15.
- I have rediscovered my self-worth and have achieved a pretty significant level of emotional intelligence.
- I have become far more comfortable in social situations, moving from being unable to speak to actually leading social groups.
Even the results of the Myers-Briggs personality assessment have changed. Where once I was a strong INFP (testing consistently this way for 20 years) I am now an INTJ. Although I am still an introvert, I had once been on the far end of the Introvert spectrum and have gravitated more in the direction of the Extrovert. I’m still on the I side of the I/E line, but much closer to the center. And this is something I had at one time believed was so much a part of who I am that this would never change.
His meaning isn’t lost on me, even though I am debating the wording of his point. In most cases, we don’t need to change who we are. That is a daunting, exhausting and overwhelming task. It’s enough to take our best qualities and make them better.
So I’m curious. Most people change over time. Do you feel that you have changed your personality, or become more of who you were all along?
In fairness, this is only one tiny point in his book which is actually about using your strengths in the workplace. He has an interesting approach and if you’re dissatisfied with your job it may be worth reading. This isn’t intended to be a book review but rather a discussion of an idea I found interesting.