A life coach named Michele Vosberg, who seems pretty savvy, wrote an interesting article for the blog Sixty and Me. She asks, “Do our personalities change with age?” and answers with a resounding “yes.”
I’ve always been suspicious of personality discussions in business. For one thing, psychologists have long questioned whether personality is a trait or state variable. A trait variable persists across situations; a state variable responds to the specific context.
These days most marketers have read Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence. He talks about the ways we are motivated to take an action. We are strongly influenced by situation. In fact, simply rephrasing a request can change responses. Personality? Not relevant.
It’s hardly surprising that people change personalities as they get older. We face different environments. A fourteen-year-old in the US (and many other countries) faces a highly structured secondary school program, with exams and requirements. You have limited choices in where and how you interact with others.
As an adult, you have choices. I’ve never been a great exam-taker. Somehow I did well on the college and grad school entrance exams. But in graduate school, I was an adult. I could ask my professors for options to write papers instead of taking exams. Many said yes.
Once in the work force, you have even more options. You’re exposed to broader views. You can spend time with a partner, go to lots of parties, and hang out at bars. You can remain happily single and spend your Saturday nights curled up with your cat. You can take painting classes, work out at the gym, and/or join a sports league…and that’s just the beginning.
You’re also going to be molded by experience. You’ll take on different kinds of jobs. You’ll move to different locations. You’ll meet new friends. Your old friends change: they get married, get divorced, develop new interests, and experience the highs and lows of ordinary living.
Additionally, you learn new things. You gain confidence as you master new skills. You grow from experiencing success, failure, and everything in between. You discover your strengths – and you have more scope for expanding strengths.
The whole premise of comparing your present self to your young self seems misguided. It makes more sense to ask every day, “If I could do anything, what would I do? What would I like to change in my life?”
It makes even more sense to ask, “What kind of personality would I like to have? Vivacious? Quiet? Hesitant? Outgoing? Confident?” and then follow up with, “How can I get there?”