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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Personality and Profession: When Who You Are Becomes What You Do

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Multitasking workWork of a multitasker. Photo by totalAldo/Flickr, cc by 2.0

To be effective workers, many of us use learned principles of best workplace practices, even though they may counter our natural instincts. But this goes against a common sense idea that your personal tendencies could help you at work. In "Autism and Humanity" this week, Paul Collins cites psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen's research correlating autism with certain professions:

"There’s been really fascinating research on this done by Simon Baron-Cohen at Cambridge University. And what he noticed essentially was that there seemed to be a lot of autistic siblings, in particular, of students of his who were in science-related majors and, you know, math students as well, and engineering students, and that kind of thing. And so initially, he simply looked at, just sort of did an informal study comparing English majors and the rates of autism in their families with a number of science majors. And the science majors that he was looking at had rates that were like five and six times that of autism in their families. Interestingly enough, the English majors had much, much higher rates of manic depression in their families…

Which is suddenly all makes sense. So, and then when he expanded to studying the broader population, he found that this held up. That actually, when you looked at the professions that family members of people with autism were in, they tended to be in things like accounting, engineering, computer programming, and had very low rates of employment in fields like sales, for instance.”

Harvard Business Review recently made a similar point with seven personality traits of successful salespeople. The research took an organic approach to understanding what personality traits top salespeople happened to have in common, and in what ways it served them in their sales roles.

Many of us may have struggled less on the career ladder by choosing a career more suited to our personalities. But would you trade in the unexpected skills or experiences picked up along the way?

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