“How you do anything is how you do everything,” or so goes the maxim that floats around self-improvement literature. Although no one knows who first coined the phrase, there’s truth to it when it comes to career decision-making. Here’s why: when you’re facing a bold life decision, how you go about doing it matters just as much as why you’re thinking about it in the first place, and what you end up deciding to do in the long run.

The more you know your “how” – how you react to challenges, how you make decisions, and how you motivate yourself – the faster you’ll reap progress in your search for the new you.

One powerful framework to help you succeed in your career comes from Gretchen Rubin, the NY Times bestselling author of The Four Tendencies and The Happiness Project. Her work helps illuminate how and why people make decisions and take action, and serves as a useful self-knowledge tool for people thinking about a potential career change.

Rubin’s Four Tendencies framework helps people identify how their core personality type creates, or works against, positive change – from going to the gym, eating right, or – you guessed it – career change. 

Are you a …

Questioner, Upholder, Rebel or Obliger?

Rubin believes that people fall into four tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Rebels, and Obligers. In her view, tendencies shape every aspect of our personalities and our activities. Rubin believes that understanding these tendencies, and knowing which you most closely fit, will help you make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burn-out, and engage more effectively in work and in life. 


Career changers (and everyone else) build new habits and approach personal growth in four discrete ways. Here’s how you can identify your own style and understand the strengths and weaknesses that are likely to show up in your hunt for a new career path. 



Upholder Characteristics 

Upholders respond readily to outside and inner expectations. If you’re an Upholder, you likely find it easy to stick to deadlines and meet expectations, and doing so is very important to you. You may be one of the few people who sets, and actually keeps, their New Year’s resolutions. You’re motivated by fulfillment, by completing tasks on your to-do lists, and getting things done. You are a self starter. You hate being blamed for things or getting in trouble. You acquire and break habits easily, and most likely do not need extra supervision or management. On the downside, you can become overwhelmed or frustrated by a project if the expectations are not clearly defined. 


An Upholder’s Career Exploration

If you’re an Upholder, a few things are important to consider to help you make your career search more successful. The main habit that supports your Upholder tendency is doing extensive research about careers or companies, so that you know what’s required and can bring your A-game to the table.

As an Upholder, all of the research you do about the career field will help you feel as ready and clear as possible. This will give you expectations for success in the new field, and when it comes to interviewing, a clear idea of what–or what not–to emphasize.

The main behavior that will serve you well in your career exploration is your inner instinct to keep things moving along – you’re the first one to send a thank-you note after an informational interview, for example – and you’ll keep the process streamlined and structured.


Things to Watch in an Upholder’s Career Change

Upholders respond best to outer and inner expectations, and when expectations aren’t clear, you may struggle. For example, you may hold back from pursuing a career change you want because of the feeling you may let your family down, or the idea that you’d be disloyal if you jettisoned your current employer. In addition, career change is an ambiguous, often messy process with no clear timelines, so you’ll work through it best if you set your own deadlines and keep your career research very organized and thorough.




Questioner Characteristics 

Questioners – wait for it – question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if, and only if, they think it makes sense. If you’re a Questioner, you likely need to understand why an expectation or action is important in order to become willing to do it. Your waterfall-like questioning style and need for answers ahead of time may stymie others who feel like they’re being interrogated, but Questioners like to dig, dig, dig until they get to the bottom of the topic.


A Questioner’s Career Exploration

Questioners will constantly ask questions about a career and need a lot of time to process the answer. They’ll also ponder potential career options from many angles, including the skills required, process, project, or method. For example, you’ll want to know: What do people in that career path need? Will they take someone with my skillset? Does this career path make sense for the long haul? If, after questioning, something doesn’t click for you, you’re not overly inclined to take it on.

A beneficial habit for a Questioner’s job search is to learn the right questions, and the right time to ask them. It’s possible that your need for answers can be wearing on those around you and can give the appearance of you being uninterested or stand-offish during a job interview or networking meeting.


Things to Watch in an Questioner’s Career Change

Before you consider a new career or a new company, you’ll want to know many answers about the career, the skills, the role, the culture, the fit, and how this career makes sense for you personally. This may stop you from moving forward, since many of these questions can’t be answered until you’re directly in the new career setting.

However, it may make sense to use your Questioner tendency to your advantage by fleshing out exactly which questions need to be answered and using those to structure your career exploration. Once on an interview or informational meeting, you’re bursting with topics to find out from the interviewer to decide whether or not the career is right for you. While this is generally for clarity, it can feel challenging to the person on the other side of the table, who’s looking to feel in control of the conversation. 

In the end, you’ll need a game plan that involves a lot of informational interviewing in your career decision-making, so that you’re collecting knowledge about a potential career field before jumping in with both feet. Knowing – as much as you can – if the career field is a good fit for you will put you at ease, and allow you to make a career change confidently. 




Rebel Characteristics 

Rebels march to the beat of their own drummer, resisting any expectations that others may have for them. They don’t like external structure, and they want to confidently direct their own actions. They are motivated by their own inner compass and desire, rather than by obligation or by asking questions. If you’re a Rebel, you are not likely to want to be beholden to someone else’s opinions or suggestions, and you want to think outside the box to develop new ways of doing things that do not conform to existing rules.


A Rebel’s Career Exploration

Rebels need to feel like a career path is completely their own idea, and gives them the freedom and independence from micromanagement that suits their personality best. If you’re a Rebel, you will likely resist going through a structured, planned career exploration process, and will prefer to let your intuition guide you. This may end up feeling haphazard, like a two steps forward, two steps back kind of process, if you don’t have a way of bringing some order to your quest for a new career path. 

For you to get excited about a new career path, you’ll need to focus on the bigger picture “why” of the career change and how this new path might allow you to be more true to yourself. In order to keep your energy up throughout the career exploration process, you’ll want to focus on the excitement of looking for something new, the thrill of talking to a potential employer, or your desire to find a role where you can be free to create your own solutions and have a great deal of autonomy. 


Things to Watch in a Rebel’s Career Change

You are drawn to career paths where your uniqueness can shine, and may consider entrepreneurship, as well. You probably have a pretty good idea of what you want to FEEL like in a job, but aren’t quite sure what path to pursue, until you stumble upon it. You’re likely to want to pursue opportunities that are novel or interesting, rather than finding a role that’s essentially the same as your last role. The good news is, your Rebel tendency will allow you to think much more creatively than others might, which will open up many potential new career avenues for you to explore.




Obliger Characteristics 

If you’re an Obliger, you readily meet other’s expectations, but may struggle to create or keep inner expectations you try to impose on yourself. Obligers often make the very best employees, because their personality type is very focused on meeting external demands. At the same time, Obligers often have a tendency to over-give to others while not forming their own positive habits. For example, an Obliger may not go to the gym regularly on their own, but are there in a heartbeat if they’ve agreed to meet up with a workout buddy. They would never break a commitment to someone else, but their commitments to themselves are fair game to be shoved aside when someone else needs them. They may also be overly swayed by someone else’s enthusiasm about a potential career path, rather than staying true to their own needs.


An Obliger’s Career Exploration

For an Obliger, both the process of career exploration – and the final career itself – will need to have elements of external accountability, in order for you to shine. You’ll focus on what you have to do so you don’t let others down, but you may have a tough time holding yourself accountable. If you’re an Obliger trying to make a career change, you’ll benefit from an accountability buddy, a job search group, or a career coach to keep you on track as your process unfolds.

You will be most successful with career exploration that follows a clear process, where you need to meet various expectations or milestones along the way. You may appreciate more frequent reminders for action, and will respond well to others’ suggestions about career opportunities and interviews. You’ll work best if you make a promise to someone else with concrete goals to accomplish, such as finding three opportunities by the time you next talk.


Things to Watch in an Obliger’s Career Change

Obligers are primarily motivated by external accountability, rather than by internal commitments. You may be the most susceptible personality type to becoming derailed by “shoulds” in the career hunt, which could be something like family needs, a job your friend wants you to take, or being worried that you don’t have the absolute full skill set that a new career requires. But that leads you to a classic catch-22 – you want to gain new skills, but you don’t want to let people down because you don’t have those skills – yet. A good approach for you would be taking some (structured) online classes, or finding a networking group or meetup you can go to in order to learn more about your intended career field. Once you learn what you need to in order to meet the expectations in the new field, however, your Obliger ability to overdeliver against job goals means that you’ll soon rise to the top.




These four personality tendencies are helpful to know about for general habit-setting, and they are a powerful framework for making sure you set your career change up for success from the start.

They can help you craft an approach to career exploration that takes into account how you seek guidance, make decisions, and keep yourself motivated. But they don’t have to be your only metric for understanding what will work for you as you chart a new path. Use your experience, your intuition, your own system, or a different personality type metric, if you’d like. However you incorporate this tendency matrix, make sure that you’re being thoughtful and deliberate with your career change, so that it results in the right fit for you – and your personality type – in the end.