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What’s Your Work Archetype?

To have a thriving career, there's really only one metric that matters

January 12, 2018

What’s Your Work Archetype?

To have a thriving career, there’s really only one metric that matters

By Marco Greenberg

The story of American work is a story of endless possibilities. From a very young age, we’re told that we can be all we want to be, that we should dare and dream big, that there’s no end to what we can achieve if only we apply ourselves and believe that the future is bright.

These are lovely sentiments. They’re also dead wrong.

In reality, we may each have many interests and skills, but there is, without exception, one big thing we do so well that it may as well define us. This is what the German psychologist Carl Gustav Jung had in mind when he argued that we all conform to ancient, eternal archetypes: at any given moment in human history, some people will be heroes, other villains, some priests and some tricksters. We all play a role, whether or not we realize it, and understanding the nature of this role will help us succeed.

Jung died long before so many of us were corralled into cubicles for ten-hour days, but his ideas translate exceptionally well to our contemporary work reality. Having spent twenty-five years working with some of America’s most successful companies, from start-ups who’ve made it big to Fortune 500 companies that grew bigger and more influential, and having consulted billionaires, ambassadors, and entrepreneurs, I can tell you that knowing your archetype at work has never been more pressing. Those of us who know who they are and what they do best thrive, while those who don’t often spend decades in dead-end jobs, growing sour with resentment. As we’re still fresh into the new year, as we rethink the meaning of work in a time when boundaries between home and the office have never been blurrier, it might do us well to look at the basic archetypes I’ve created and think where we ourselves fall in this list:

· The Merchant: A purely transactional creature, the merchant is here to sell things. Be it on a street corner or on the Internet, she sees every human interaction as an opportunity to promote her goods and services.

· The Priest: Most of us no longer regularly visit church or the synagogue, but all of still require care and feeding for our souls. We may find this spiritual nourishment in yoga classes and workout routines, on therapists’ couches and in Tarot Card readings, but we never stop needing it. The Priest is here to make sure we connect with those stirrings deep inside that tell us that there’s a greater purpose to life than just work, sleep, repeat.

· The Scribe: Human beings make sense of the world by telling each other stories, and Scribes have always been crucial to keeping everyone huddled around the campfire, feeling part of the same tribe enjoying the same tale. Some do it in fancy shows on HBO, some on social media, some in old-fashioned books, but without them we’d hardly be able to make sense of life as it rapidly unfolds all around us.

· The Sentry: Everything worth having is worth protecting, which is where the Sentry comes in. Often, his job is thankless: He may be the one keeping the CEO from getting bogged down in too many meetings, or making sure new and radical ideas are thoroughly vetted before they’re allowed to take hold and risk the firm’s reputation. Creative types might scoff at the Sentry and see him as a stubborn bureaucrat, but he’s needed to keep things steady and safe.

· The Shepherd: If you’ve ever visited a farm, you’ve probably noticed three things about shepherds: they’re always alone, they’re always ahead of everyone else, and they’re used to being followed. Give these types an office job, and they’ll wilt. Allow them to wander into the wilderness, and you may just end up with the new iPhone or electric car.

· The Sherpa: You may not be the sort of person who gives that much thought to the assistants, the custodians, and the others helping you perform small and simple tasks throughout the day, but try going a day without these helpers and you’ll see just how vital they are to making the world run.

· The Troubadour: Just as we all need to eat and breathe, we all need to be entertained. This is why we have not only actors and musicians but also media-savvy politicians, TED speakers, celebrity bloggers, and others who can turn a phrase and make you smile, think, and feel.

· The Welder: Because so much of business is so often about putting the right people together, Welders, the consummate connectors, are always in demand, and their talent is taking seemingly disparate people and parts and ideas and connecting them into something new and thrilling.

· The Cobbler: If you’ve ever tried making a shoe, you know it’s a painstaking process that’s all about small details and specific sequences. Cobblers make for excellent project managers, supervisors, and any other position that requires following the rules meticulously and making sure no tiny thing goes unnoticed or unchecked.

· The Healer: You don’t have to be a trained physician to be a healer. Sometimes, all it takes to make someone feel so much better is listening patiently, or saying the right, comforting thing at the right time. As more and more people voice their grievances on social media, for example, more and more companies pay more and more money to Healers to come in and do attentive customer service, a needed reminder that you can never put too much of a premium on someone who just makes you feel good.

· The Baron: A baron isn’t born; a baron is made, ready to move big money or big parcels of land or large chunks of voters. And while we often find their excesses infuriating, we need these masters of the universe to run the show.

These eleven archetypes, of course, are just that—abstract expressions of larger, more complicated ideas. But if you take a moment to look at your own careers honestly, you may be surprised to see yourself in a category you never thought was your own. If you told Steve Jobs, for example, to be a Healer, he’d have hated it. If you asked Ruth Bader Ginsburg to think like a Merchant, she probably could not sell anything that well. The path to happiness begins with self-knowledge, so find your archetype on the list and make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. There’s no greater feeling, at work and in life.

* * *

Marco Greenberg is the president of Thunder11, a strategic communications shop in New York.

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