Openness to Experience: A Desirable Quality

How open to new experiences are you?

I recently had a conversation with some students about “openness to experience,” and how we can think of this quality as a helpful career skill that can be improved over time. It was clear to everyone in the room that people have varying levels of openness, even though most of these students felt they were quite open to new experiences.

It brought up an interesting question: if you were not so open to new experiences, would you even know it?

If you’re raising your eyebrow right about now, allow me to backtrack and explain what I mean by openness to experience. To do that, I’ll quickly explain some theories of personality.

There are ways of looking at personality that try to boil everything down to a small number of factors, or types. Many theorists and researchers have tried to identify what those fundamental types are, dating at least back to Carl Jung in 1921 (but if you really want to take it back, Hippocrates in ancient Greece), leading to the creation of the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) in 1962—a tool that remains well researched and widely used in many domains today.

The MBTI identifies four different sets of personality traits, but openness to experience is not one of them—a different group of researchers first coined that term when developing what is known as the “Big Five” or Five Factor Model of personality. According to these researchers, openness to experience is the set of personality traits of people that are curious, flexible, imaginative, and in tune with their emotions. By contrast, the opposing quality of being “closed to experience” tends to describe those who prefer routines and have casino pa natet few, unchanging interests.

Being open to experience sounds pretty good, right?

Most likely, it’s a trait that varies according to a normal statistical distribution. This means that about 70 percent of people fall somewhere in the middle, even though many believe they rank higher. This is certainly not uncommon for personality traits that are socially desirable. I would even say that many people convince themselves that they have more of the desired trait than they actually do.

So this brings us back to the posed question: If you aren’t very open to new experiences, would you know it?

To be honest, I’m not sure. But I do believe that openness to experience, as opposed to a stable personality trait, can be thought of as a skill. In other words, I think it’s possible to grow and develop this trait. I’ve worked with many people who have experienced profound personal growth (and not because of something I did, but because of experiences and their own efforts). Based on my own observations, I’d say that growing your openness to experience is not only possible, but at some point in life it’s incredibly likely.

For now, I encourage you to ponder how open you are to new experiences, and be honest in your response. Then, who knows—why not try something new?

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