Nature vs Nurture: Personality Traits & Career

Nature vs Nurture in Personality Traits and Career

If I only knew that a I was a natural at non-spatial ability, empathy, systems thinking, and intrapersonal intelligences, I would have gone to college for evolutionary psychology rather than electrical engineering. I thought that I could do anything, as long as I worked hard at it.

The interesting thing is, I got through school well enough and liked some of it, but soon after college it became painfully apparent to me that I couldn’t sustain enough fascination with engineering projects to excel in the field. Deep down, I had a hunch that my real potential lied elsewhere, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. My heart sank into despair, I made a serious mistake and ended up on the wrong career path. 

In hindsight, I realize that the internal compass that my teenage self was steering with was out of balance. My sense of achieving my life goals and success was based on the notion that “you can do anything you want, all it takes is hard work.” I was a “nurture” guy, but without realizing it. I didn’t even know to look for “natural ability,” what the heck is that? Twenty plus years later, here I am, a natural strengths-based career choice specialist. I’ve worked with thousands of people of all ages that are making the same career choice mistakes, many with advanced degrees that aren’t panning out.

One of the biggest roots of this problem is in our self concept; we don’t formally talk about “being a natural” in our culture and educational system (except for in sports). Most of our focus is on nurturing people, all the fuss about living in the right neighborhood to go to the right schools to get into the right college is our cultural commitment to “nurture.” This mythology looses it’s grasp on us only after we suffer the consequences, which are not fully apparent until a decade after we graduate from our “dream college” and get our “dream job,” but can’t figure out why we hate the life we chose.

The good news is that the brain and behavioral science community is bringing forth stronger evidence to clarify the nature vs nurture personalty traits debate. Scientists are finding that nature plays a significant role in shaping our natural talents and traits. For example, studies of identical twins raised apart in different family environments turn out to have uncannily similar personalities, aptitudes, tastes and perspectives. They even pick the same careers. If this is so, then you’d think that identical twins raised by the same parents would be doubly similar; they would share both genes and home environment. But as it turns out, identical twins that grew up in the same house are no more alike than identical twins that grew up in different parts of the world. Nurture plays a smaller role than we think.

What’s even more intriguing is how alike people are who are not related at all, but have similar aptitude and personality trait profiles—their brain hardwiring has the same relative strengths and weaknesses. They read the same genre of books, have the same hobbies and career interests, aspire to reach similar dreams, perceive the world similarly and even have similar quirks and fears.

In interpreting the aptitudes of thousands of people over the two decades, I’ve met a handful of people who are wired up nearly identical to me in a career testing battery of 15 aptitudes and traits. Some of my “doubles” were from different countries and nurtured in very different cultures (one guy was from Saudi Arabia), the likenesses were uncanny.

Our parent’s like to think they are gradually sculpting our personalities, but, if they have more than one child they often flip from a nurture to a nature viewpoint. How can our kids be so different, despite being raised the same way? Think about it, did you sit down one day and intentionally choose your personality type, traits and natural abilities? Or, were your tendencies already there as natural inclinations and proclivities? 

This video presentation from TED Talks is by Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, who succinctly and cleverly presents the reasons why our society is stubbornly holding on to outdated views of human nature.

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