Do I Need My Type A Personality to Succeed?

My window on the worldI propped my head on a folded blanket  in my crow’s nest, a room at the top of our house with floor to ceiling windows, on a weekday in the middle of the afternoon. I stared at the clouds for a long time, almost two hours. I had things to do, but none pressed upon me. Several times, I thought, “I’m not accomplishing anything. I’m not being productive.”  But I didn’t go; I relaxed.

The next day I ran around all day, shopping for groceries, serving, visiting friends, cleaning, writing, accomplishing. After a busy and highly productive day I sat on the couch at 9 p.m. unable to relax. I couldn’t settle myself. I thought it was my son in the hallway, stressing over his balloon car project for school. I thought it was Paul’s persistent messaging on his phone next to me. This noise unsettled me, but the real noise wasn’t external, it was internal.

I had sensed that feeling a few hours earlier and said to Paul, “Sometimes you may have enough hours in the day to complete certain tasks but that doesn’t mean you have the energy to do it.” Still, we had a commitment after dinner and wanted to fulfill it. I called on my internal drive and we kept going—until that 9 o’clock hour.

The next day, I knew I needed to go back to a day of independent time, quiet time, unhurried time. I turned off my alarm and slept an extra half hour instead of exercising, consciously moved at a slower pace, and didn’t create any mental or physical tasks for myself that morning. I relaxed and felt my body respond. Rest restored my physical and emotional stability.

I feel the contrast of these different days. Most of my days are characterized not by the first example but by the second, drawing upon the Type A personality characteristics within me to attain certain goals.  I want to produce. I have good ideas. I love to create. I want to give. I have something to add. My mental quickness responds to the “go-go-go” times, but it is also when I’m tired, stressed, impatient and cranky with my family.

I took the Discovery Health Personality Test to identify if I really am a Type A personality. Here’s their definition:

According to scientific literature, Type A behavior is characterized by an intense and sustained drive to achieve goals and an eagerness to compete. Personalities categorized as Type A tend to have a persistent desire for external recognition and advancement. They are involved in various functions that bring about time restrictions. Such personalities have a tendency to speed up mental and physical tasks with extraordinary mental and physical alertness. These characteristics make for super-achievers and high-powered people. Type A individuals can get a lot done and have the potential to really move ahead in the world. But there is a high price to pay. Certain components of such a personality can inhibit happiness and even threaten health.

My results showed me in the middle between Type A and Type B with a slight edge toward Type A. The result said, “The equilibrium is important, so don’t let your hostile, aggressive, and competitive alter ego take over too often.”

My quandary is that my creativity feeds on the energy of the Type A personality, not the restrained and resting self. As I’m writing my book, I’ve discovered the lack of deadlines or external pressures is moving me into a Type B mode with it, and I worry that I will not be able to sustain myself with my highest mental and emotional resources if I don’t engage the Type A self.

So, I’m pondering this question: Can we successfully attain large-scale external goals in our driven society without being  a Type A personality? What do you think? How does it relate to you?


  1. terena
    Apr 27, 2009

    I’ve been asking myself the exact same question lately. I am a definite overachiever, so much so I can’t even achieve everything I think I should. But I keep trying, and now I’m burning out. I’m hungry to find a more balance life, but sleeping in or taking a day to relax isn’t possible. What else can I do? I achieve a lot, but is all that accomplishment worth the cost to my sanity and health? If I’m not achieving, who am I?

  2. TJ
    Apr 27, 2009

    Thanks Terena. So many questions that I am contemplating, too. I think the crux of it comes down to your last one, If I’m not achieving, who am I? Whether we admit or not we do define our identity but what we produce not who we are. And I don’t have an answer for that that really sticks.

  3. ph
    Apr 27, 2009

    Maybe it’s not how much you achieve, but what you achieve. Some things are clearly more important than others. Doing things in the right priority can help you decide what is too much. Just scratch the stuff off your list that’s at the bottom.

    The trick, though, is knowing what’s really worth it.

  4. terena
    Apr 27, 2009

    Just a quick side note: I tagged you in a motherhood meme at Gravity Check. 🙂

  5. It sounds like you’ve hit on a magical balance. You know when to let go, and when to drive yourself, and you’re able to fully “accomplish” both. So I don’t think you need a Type A personality to attain big goals–if so, maybe that’s a sure sign that our goals themselves are too Type A.

  6. TJ
    Apr 28, 2009

    PH: Maybe I should actually make a long-term goal list, again, and set it beside my short term goal list so I can evaluate them together in how I spend my time. Thanks for your thoughts about “It’s not how much you achieve but what you achieve.”

    Kristen: Love this, “a sure sign that our goals themselves are too Type A.” Good point. I haven’t found that magical balance, have I? Maybe in verbalizing this, I have. Thanks.

  7. An Ordinary Mom
    May 6, 2009

    I give a resounding yes to your question. Life is all about seeking balance. What comes immediately to my mind is Elder Oaks’ talk on “Good. Better. Best.” Now I just need to fully practice what I preach.

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