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Exploring Four Career Archetypes
Hedonists. Humanitarians. Scholars. Iconoclasts.
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Career Archetypes: The Drivers of Professional Orientation
Since writing last week's piece on career paths, I’ve become curious about career archetypes.
I've been wondering whether there are underlying personalities that would make us more likely to gravitate towards one career path versus the others.
To recap, the three career paths I wrote about last week are:
Follow your talents
Follow big trends
Follow big problems
From the email responses I got from a couple of readers who indicated their preference for one path over the others, I started writing down a few thoughts on the different archetypes that align with each path.
But as I identified different career archetypes, I started noticing some overlap. Some archetypes could actually align with more than one career path.
With that in mind, I decided to focus this piece on the archetypes themselves rather than on mapping the archetypes to the specific career paths. You can do the latter as you read on.
So far, I've been able to identify four career archetypes. These archetypes are classifications of people based on the key factor that drives their professional orientation.
I'm sure that there are more archetypes that I haven't discovered yet. If you think of one as you read, please leave a comment about it. Let's explore this together!
Disclaimer: These archetypes are based on my observation, not any scientific research.
Four Career Archetypes
Professional orientation: Achieving the good life
I'd argue that this is probably the most common career archetype.
People with this archetype build their careers with the pursuit of pleasure/comfort in mind. They optimise for opportunities that give them a fatter paycheck and afford them the niceties that they desire.
But it's also not always about just them and their interests. They could also be aiming to create the good life for those they love: parents, siblings, children, partners, etc.
People who come from non-wealthy backgrounds often have this archetype. They orient their careers towards living the good life that they couldn't as kids, while still having enough to send back to their parents and other relatives.
People of this archetype are often those we earmark as super-ambitious. Because for them, achieving success in their careers is very much an existential pursuit. They need to succeed.
A demerit of this archetype is that while they may end up achieving the good life they seek, they could also end up deeply unfulfilled because chasing material things is a race that has no end. The more you get, the more you want.
As a result, most people with this archetype never really divorce that sense of 'lack' until they find something deeper or bigger to live for.
Professional orientation: Making a difference in the world
I've noticed that this archetype is becoming increasingly popular with the rise of Gen Z, a generation that cares a lot more about social good than any other generation.
People with this archetype usually orient their careers around a social problem they want to solve. This could be a problem they'd been grappling with from childhood or one they observed later on in life.
This career archetype is more common among people from privileged backgrounds than those from non-privileged backgrounds. That is because the privileged folk are more likely to think about macro-level social problems as they don't have to think about micro-level needs that threaten their everyday survival.
The folks from non-privileged backgrounds who have this archetype are often those who, as a result of their own efforts, have ascended the social ladder. They then orient their careers towards solving those same social ills that affected them when they were younger, or those that continue to affect them (eg: poverty, gender inequality, homophobia, unemployment, etc.)
It's easy to think that humanitarians are more likely to be found in the public sector, but I think otherwise. I think that a greater percentage of humanitarians are in the private sector leveraging skills in finance, technology, activism, design, and art to create solutions that make the world better than they found it.
A demerit of this archetype is that they are often idealistic in their pursuit of social change.
With most of them having a deep personal connection to the cause they're pursuing, they can be less open to tolerating nuance and a lot more impatient in expecting results. But social change is often slow and characterised by a lot of grey areas.
Professional orientation: Answering big questions
While most of these people are academics, a good percentage of them are also everyday people working on products and projects that push the boundaries of human knowledge and/or ability.
These people weave their careers around unanswered questions that they are passionate about. This could be anything from 'how can we prolong human life?' to something like 'how can we design egalitarian societies?'
As academics, their research often revolves around those questions. As everyday professionals in companies, their work is geared towards projects that contribute to breakthrough innovations that expand how the world thinks about certain questions.
They are naturally curious people who are always seeking opportunities to improve their minds and the way they think about the world.
A demerit of this archetype is that they can be very single-minded in their pursuit of answers to the questions that keep them up at night. Dedicating one's entire life to finding answers to a set of questions is one of the easiest ways to live a life of obsession.
Professional orientation: Disrupting the world
This archetype could manifest in one of two ways: (1) as a separate class of people or (2) as an extreme version of the humanitarians or the scholars.
Either way, iconoclasts are people who have a very clear sense of how the world should be and are driven enough to bend the world towards their own worldview. They often have a rigid set of beliefs and unpopular opinions about the order of the world.
Iconoclasts often have a very strong distaste for the status quo and are naturally rebellious against systems and structures that seek to preserve the status quo. As a result, they naturally pursue unconventional jobs or career paths.
The most extreme iconoclasts are often perceived as irrational or even arrogant in their pursuit to change the order of things and upend institutions that they consider outdated or repressive to social progress.
They are often the worst employees, but the best entrepreneurs and activists.
A demerit of this archetype is that they are often unwelcoming of different viewpoints because of how rigid their beliefs are. They could be condescending towards people who, unlike themselves, find no problem with the current order of things.
Thinking about these archetypes was a fun exercise for me this week.
Like I mentioned above, I'm sure that this list of four archetypes is in no way exhaustive. But it's my first step in understanding the different kinds of people I come across in the world of work.
I’ll continue thinking about these archetypes—their strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. But in the meantime, let me know what archetype you think I missed and what you think your archetype is.
PS: I'm a blend of a hedonist and a humanitarian. Weird mix, I know 😂