Is Your Personality a Good Fit
for Your Business?
Statistics tell us that the majority of encore entrepreneurs will start businesses in which they are the sole provider or the primary provider of services. The business itself, then, becomes an extension of their personality.
In my judgment, this makes it imperative that you choose a business whose style of delivery is compatible with your personality. We could devote an entire book to this subject. But for purposes of the current article, let me restrict myself to one critical aspect of personality.
It has to do with whether you are an extraverted personality or an introverted personality. Now, just by bringing up those terms, I force myself immediately to spend some time on definitions.
Extraverts and Introverts Aren't Who You Think They Are
When I speak of "extraverted" or "introverted," I'm departing from the way that these terms are used in casual conversation. As a rule, when people describe someone as "extraverted," they want to convey the idea that the person is energetic, exuberant, and out-going. By contrast, describing someone as an "introvert" usually implies that the individual is quiet, reserved, somewhat passive, or even shy.
This is a far cry from what these two words meant originally in psychology — and still mean today. The psychological definitions trace back to the personality theory which Carl Jung popularized a century ago.
According to Jung, one of our most vital human functions is to derive the necessary energy to fulfill our commitments and responsibilities. He added that people have distinctively different ways of finding this requisite energy.
Some (a group he called "extraverts") energize themselves by frequent interactions with people and by pursuing activities that involve them heavily in the external world. Another group, the "introverts," energize themselves by withdrawing from people, sometimes in wholesale ways, and focusing on the internal world.
We can basically determine which side of this divide we are on by asking ourselves, "When my batteries are drained and I need to recharge, how do I re-energize myself?"
If your answer is something like, "I plan a quiet evening or weekend, maybe reading a book or catching up on a hobby I'm working on in the garage," your response would indicate a preference for introversion.
An extraverted response would be more along the lines of, "I invite a lot of people over for a weekend party. And one or two nights a week I work out at the gym where there are a lot of people to talk to."
The Difference that Makes the Difference
What shapes the underlying contrast in these responses is a fundamental reality: for extraverts being with a lot of people in high-paced interactions is a net energy gain. For the introvert, it's a net energy drain. Extraverts recharge batteries by getting with people, introverts by getting away from them.
Many people whom we would describe as "extraverts" in the popular sense of the word are in fact "introverts" in the psychological sense of the term. This is true of countless highly successful actors. Classic screen figures like Harrison Ford, Marlon Brando, Richard Burton, George C. Scott, and Clint Eastwood fall in this group.
When we think of them on screen, we see a bigger-than-life individual who grabs the world by its lapels. Away from the screen, however, their private lives spoke decisively of their introversion. They were known for being rather reclusive, even withdrawn. They were on everyone's "A" list for Hollywood parties, but rarely appeared at one. It was in their time away from people that they mustered the energy to embody that convincing "macho man" persona on the screen.
In business, too, your penchant for extraversion or introversion has no predictive capacity to forecast your potential for success. Perhaps the most widely read book on business leadership this century is Jim Collins' Good to Great. Of the successful executives whose lives he highlighted in his study, more than 80% were psychological introverts.
Finding Satisfaction in the Business You Start
But while extraversion and introversion have little correlation with effectiveness and success, they do have a direct correlation with how much your daily work responsibilities will keep you energized. Which brings us back to the matter of starting a business which is compatible with your personality.
I've seen encore entrepreneurs who are psychological extraverts start an internet-based business that they manage from an office in their home. In relatively short order, their business surpassed their financial dreams. Yet, they find their success somewhat less than fulfilling. What's missing in their business structure are steady opportunities to interact with people and draw energy from them.
Another place that I've watched this this play out is with former executives who launch an encore career as professional speakers. Professional speaking looks like an extravert's game. You're up front, standing before a crowd, expected to bring high energy to your presentation. So extraverts are attracted to this career move.
In reality, highly successful professional speakers have to thrive in a world more tailored for introverts. The bulk of your time is spent in solitude. You speak to a group, go back to a hotel room, catch a plane to another city, check into another hotel room, make your appearance, and start the cycle all over again. And then there are the hours and hours alone rehearsing and perfecting your speech.
It's not surprising, therefore, that extraverts frequently burn out on the professional speaking circuit, in spite of the accolades and bursts of energy that they receive from their audiences. Those momentary bursts of energy are not sufficient for their extraverted personality.
On the other hand, introverts are setting themselves up for frustration if they start a business that thrusts them into an extravert mode most of the time. A very introverted friend of mine decided to launch an encore career as an insurance salesman. He lasted less than a year.
The constant demand to interact with people, keep his schedule packed with appointments, and make presentation after presentation simply left him drained all of the time. Nor did he enjoy an aspect of the business which many extraverts would cherish, namely, going toe-to-toe with the world in a high-stakes competition where your livelihood depends entirely on commissions.
What Type of Startup Is a Good Choice for You?
Now, all of us have an extraverted or introverted side to us, of necessity. Even the most extraverted actor has to carve out introvert time to memorize lines and rehearse them in private. And the most introverted professional must make forceful sales presentations to secure new business.
But the activities that dominate most of our time need to align with our psychological bent. So in starting a new business, you first need to be honest in your assessment of whether you are extraverted or introverted and the degree to which you show this preference.
Then look at the business you are considering. If you're an extravert, ask if it affords enough extravert stimulation to keep you energized. If you are an introvert, ask if it demands so much interaction with people or so many struggles with external problems that the pace of work will be psychologically draining.
The more forthright you are with this assessment up front, the more enthralled you are likely to be with your business over the long haul.
When working in a business sphere that is fully aligned with their personality, both extraverts and introverts can come to the end of a gruelling day physically exhausted, but psychologically pumped. There's no better place to work than that.
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