Creators, Heroes, and Outlaws at Work


Forget the Myers-Briggs test. If you want more insight into how you work—and what you really want to do—take a look at archetypes.

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung described archetypes as the universal psychic patterns in every human being. There are 12, and even if you think you don’t know them, you do. Have you ever called Edward Snowden a whistle-blower? A fireman a hero? You were referring to their archetypes.

We instinctively apply archetypes to the characters in movies and novels to quickly understand a lot about their personalities and their roles in the story. Marketers have been using them for decades to establish brands. Archetypes are at work at work, too.

Becoming aware of the archetypes that most describe you, and the ones you want most to develop, will give your some career advantages. Archetypes can help you:

  • Assess your strengths and areas to develop
  • Choose jobs that you’ll most enjoy and excel at
  • Better understand other people and relationship dynamics
  • Guide you in developing your personal brand

 The 12 Archetypes

Just by reading the list of archetypes, you’ll instinctively identify with a couple. Most of us are a mix of several, but usually one or two clearly dominate. And some archetypes come more strongly into play in different situations or times. Here’s the list:

  • Caregiver
  • Creator
  • Explorer
  • Hero
  • Innocent
  • Lover
  • Jester
  • Magician
  • Ordinary Guy
  • Ruler
  • Outlaw
  • Sage

To help guide your career choices, John Purkiss, co-author of Brand You, suggests focusing on the one or two archetypes that most strongly describe you, what drives you and your talents. Sometimes the two that fit you best aren’t similar, and may even be contradictory. But the mix is what makes you unique. Ellen DeGeneres, for example, can be considered both the jester and the outlaw. Steve Jobs? Purkiss noted that he was sometimes referred to as the wizard of Cupertino—the magician—and conjured up new products and services. But Jobs also evoked the outlaw by overturning established ways of doing things, the creator by founding companies, and the ruler, by leading and being secretive at Apple.

Once you have chosen the archetypes that best evoke you and your goals, you can build your presence to reflect them. How you dress and the stories you tell about yourself can reinforce your archetype, and in turn, your personal brand. Even how you decorate your office can express them. Many banks, for example, have Doric columns and formal lobbies in keeping with the authority of the ruler, while many start-ups have pool tables, whiteboards, or bright-colored walls more in line with the archetype of the creator.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and iVillage.com, among others.