Tag Archives: identity

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.


Jumping into the mess and pleasure of story

I’m currently reading Robert Nash’s ‘Liberating Scholarly Writing’ and it’s taking me longer than I thought as I keep putting it down and just spending some time sitting with it and with the words and ideas he presents. Nash presents a case for using SPN – Scholarly Personal Narrative and so many of the ideas he mentions feel like a homecoming for me and yet, there still exists a tension as I read. I read sections of the text finding a tangible representation of whispers that have been thudding in corners of my brain. As I read I wonder, could I pull this off? Should I jump without the harness of the conventional academic scaffolding I have used thus far in my writing? Will I play with the structures that that exist both ‘out there’ but also, inside me, in the part of my brain that conceptualizes what ‘real’ academic writing looks like?

It is the notion of story and narrative that entices me as I read. So many times I find myself reading lines of his text and finding synergies with some of the questions that have haunted me since I was an early doctoral student, questions that still haunt me now I am a ‘proper’ academic.

 I read Nash’s line that ‘We are storied selves who write our own realities based on these unique stories’ (p. 8) and I begin to think of the choices I make in presenting my own story, my own reality, my narrative. Why is it that I choose to place proper in quotation marks when describing myself as a ‘proper’ academic? Is it because the spectre of the imposter still lurks when I think of my work? Is it because I think I’m still trying to find my voice as a writer and the ways that I can represent the knowledge and ideas that I’m accumulating?

I think of the stories we all tell about ourselves and our worlds, every day we engage in a construction of the self in the way that we choose to interact with others and the world. This is a concept I find myself returning to more and more as I ponder the pervasive nature of social media, each time we upload a Facebook post, a blog, a tweet –we are engaging in this construction of the self, we are telling a story about ourselves to the world. In constructing a presence we then alter the world, we reshape it and our place in it, and these reshapings  multiply and intersect, over and over and over again. Again I find resonance in Nash who argues ‘The trouble with trying to discover objective truths in our worlds is that we are constantly distorting them with our narrative truths’ (p. 38).  Just like truths, our conception of self is constantly morphing, transmogrifying as we reflect, retell and refine our story.

I worry about the place of narrative in a neo-liberal world driven by measures, standards and accountability. In this world, managers talk of finding a ‘grand narrative’, a story to which they can hitch their wagon and the story becomes less about meaning and understanding, but more about finding a way to sell the latest version of reality to consumers. What is my narrative in the midst of this meta-narrative? Is it one of the emerging scholar trying to find a voice with which to protest? There are many stories, and I wonder, which one should I tell you? I could be a chameleon of tales, I could construct the world in a multitude of ways, changing my story, my register for a different audience. I pick, sift, filter, anlayse and then present a version to you that I am happy with. For now. Tomorrow, I may not be happy with this story and so I will rewrite it. And the storytelling and moulding of reality continues.Image

Without the scaffold of ‘traditional’ academic writing, part of me feels cut adrift, at danger of being swamped in a sea of narrative. In today’s story, I think I need to make a decision, to give myself up to the messy, swampy, encompassing sea of postmodernism and float in the stories, or to find some driftwood and float to a more stable shore. Today’s story has no ending, just a to be continued and in the meantime I’ll keep reading Nash and others and see where the current takes me.