Writing to type

Yesterday I went to the second day of a women in leadership PD. On the first day, the room was tense, the air hung with an uncomfortable silence and only a few spoke up, while others (including me), sat silent, removed, disconnected and wondering how we might get to a place where we could learn.

 Yesterday was different. Within the first few minutes the air was charged with excitement, interest, possibility and engagement. Julie, our facilitator, began with Holland’s personality and vocational types, asking us to think about how we would ‘type’ ourselves, choosing from Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional.

I’ve always been cynical about these typologies, naturally suspicious of anything that pigeonholes me into a box and gives me rules that suggest how I should behave, or work, or be. When I read through Holland’s description of types, it seems my argument against typologies is the hallmark of the artistic and investigative types- cue me saying ‘hmmmm’ in a suspicious, reluctant tone.

You can read about the types here:


I read through the checklists for each of these and thought ‘Am I really this easy to ‘type’?! How could someone have got inside my head to know everything that bugs me and everything that I like?’

My suspicions of Holland and other personality frameworks slammed up against the list of traits that I have in spades. How could this be? (Well according to Holland that questioning is ‘typical’ of the investigator at work again).

Julie talked about each ‘type’, arguing that those who fall into the artistic type are storytellers and that they ‘feel their way through the world’. She argued that artistic types are most at risk of hearing ‘should do’ messages, for example, ‘you should get a real job, artists/ writers/ performers don’t make any money’. Julie argued that the challenge for all of us is ‘to do work that is an expression of ourselves’ and that for artistic types, their work is an expression of themselves more than it is for any other ‘type’.  The purpose of all of this was to get us thinking about where we might fit in relation to the personality types and the implications this might have for our own personal leadership styles.

Typically (oh I’m thinking about the etymology of that word more and more now- typicalis, typikos, model, type), I started thinking about this notion of personality type and of Julie’s argument that we have a true vocational path that aligns with our type. She went back to that point of ‘what you liked at 5’ should be what you are doing. I had a flash to a box of belongings from childhood that now lives in my study. In the box? A yellow folder with pictures on the cover and in shaky, childish handwriting ‘Sharon’s stories’. If I take this ‘what you liked at 5’ theory, it seems that I should be writing, reading and telling stories. Perhaps this is why I became an academic? If I follow Holland’s personality type I have a framework to argue why I want to tell stories of research, to write in a way that helps to understand the world and to connect people and place together.

So, I may in fact, be writing to type. Well, until the investigator takes over and finds a flaw in my own argument.


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