Why you are the way you are

Why you are the way you are

Do you realize that of the first twenty-three astronauts in space, twenty-one were firstborns and the other two were the only child in their family?

Are you aware that many successful entrepreneurs are middle children?

Is it any surprise that most comedians are the youngest child in their family?

Long before I fell in love with Myers-Briggs or heard about the enneagram, I found The Birth Order Book.

The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are | Kevin Leman. 31 Days of Cult Classics | Modern Mrs Darcy

Kevin Leman calls himself America’s top “pop” birth order psychologist: the book relies on anecdotes and personal experience more than serious research. But birth order makes sense for a vast majority of people most of the time, because there is no greater influence on a young child growing up than his or her family.

(If you want the serious research, the deliberate practice literature is full of findings on birth order.)

Dependable firstborns are more likely to be presidents and pastors. Middle children are the trailblazers and mediators. The babies of the family are renowned for being charming, engaging, and manipulative.

Understanding birth order (and its variables, because it’s not quite as straightforward as it sounds) can help you get to know yourself better, and when you do, you can improve the relationships that count.

First borns and functional firsts are most likely to love The Birth Order Book, but whether that’s because of their nature or because their type is covered so extensively within its pages is yet to be determined. (I’m a firstborn, and I love this book.)

You’ll know you’ve become a believer when you find yourself saying things like, “I can’t help myself–I’m a firstborn!” or “She’s the baby of the family–isn’t it obvious?)

Have you read The Birth Order Book or heard the theories? Or: What’s your place in the family line and how does it explain why you are the way you are?

P.S. I wrote a book about personality! In Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I walk you through 7 different frameworks, explaining the basics in a way you can actually understand, sharing personal stories about how what I learned made a difference in my life, and showing you how it could make a difference in yours, as well.

*****     *****     *****

This is the second post in a series, 31 Days of Cult Classics. You can click here to see a list of all the posts, updated everyday in the month of October.


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  1. Have read this and super enjoyed it. But then I’m a sucker for any kind of personality-analysis. 🙂 I’ve read some of Lehman’s other stuff and like his style.

    I’m an oldest and have the perfectionist tendencies to prove it :).

  2. I’ve read this, and really enjoyed it too, and I’m a first born. I probably need to reread it–I constantly worry about our middle son, especially since the baby was a preemie, and needs lots of extra attention. We had lunch Sunday afternoon with some friends who have the same number of kids, and they are the same ages. It was almost eerie how similar our kids were, even though they have girls and we have boys. The other mom and I related in almost the exact same way to our firstborns, even though hers is an extravert, and mine is an introvert. I find this stuff fascinating, especially because I’m an only child, and sometimes I’m really stumped by sibling relationships since I didn’t grow up with any.

  3. Ellen says:

    I read some birth order stuff years ago, and I was confused until I figured out that my brother and I are both “first borns.” My family was pretty gender segregated in our activities when I was growing up, and my brother and I are only 16 months apart. (The whole gender segregated thing is probably why I’ve had meltdowns about having 3 sons and no daughters.) But its fascinating, and I wonder what the boy’s personalities will look like if we have one more little boy.

  4. Corrie Anne says:

    I’m a middle child and I’m definitely fascinated by birth order theory. There are six kids in my family so we have a few variations, but we’re pretty consistent to the overall theme. My husband has two older brothers and they are CLASSIC firstborn, middle, and youngest!!

  5. Sarah Wells says:

    This birth order stuff was always super interesting to me growning up. I am the oldest by birth of 5 kids, but then when I was 8, my family adopted my older sister (long story). So I guess I was “dethroned” sort of twice. But I still fit the characteristics of a first born in many ways–I’m a physician, have an excessive number of degrees and initials after my name, and love productivity. BUT, I’m not am all-out type A like a lot of my collegues. I’m more laid back, relaxed than an average first-born, and there are other ways I vary. I should read the book again now that I have my own kids to give me insight regarding them.

  6. Carrie says:

    Oh no you didn’t! I despise birth order stuff, mostly because I find that nobody’s family fits the perfect birth order scenario, and I can find so many inconsistencies that I just can’t buy into it. Take me for instance. I have one older sibling, but she is over 7 years my senior, and was married when I was 8 years old (and gone from the house). So am I a “baby”, or an “only child?” I act like *neither* stereotype. I am an entrepreneur and am the “smoother” of social interactions – as if I was a middle child! And my big sister does not act anything like the stereotypical oldest!

    My stepdaughter was 9 when my husband and I married, and now she is square in the middle of our 7… so is she an only child or a middle child? My 8 year old was the “baby” of my 4, but now has 3 more siblings… so is she a baby or a middle child? My ex-husband was an only child, but he acts like the baby.

    I’ve also read that birth order stuff is only true INSIDE the family… maybe at the family reunion dinner table people fall into these roles, but in their own families and at work they just don’t show up.

  7. Laurel says:

    Great first pick! I love this book (first born!). I’m the oldest of nine and definitely recognize many of the characteristics spread throughout the family. All boys after me, the second (first male) tends to have many of the first born traits, too….as does the the middle child, who also exhibits the characteristic middle child. (Great combo — fantastic leader and wonderful mediator!) The youngest, though, follows the ‘only child’ tendencies. Although they’re only 2 years apart, it’s the second to the youngest who acts like the youngest. It’s very interesting to see how it all plays out. 🙂

  8. alyssaz says:

    I haven’t read this book but I am familiar with birth order personalities. I have three sisters and we are textbook birth order! I’m the middle child :))

  9. Stacey says:

    I remember reading this book in college. My husband and I are both the oldest child, and I remember thinking at the time that the descriptions in his book fit us perfectly. It’s been a long time, but maybe I need to reread this book to see how it fits my kids too!

  10. Jen says:

    I haven’t read this book, but it comes up now and then in different circles. Recently, at a leadership meeting for work we sorted out into groups by birth order. Turns out about 80% of the leaders in our organization are first borns. I thought that was pretty interesting considering there had to be about 40 or so people in the group from all over the place.

    My husband and I are both first borns, so it is really interesting to watch our younger daughter and see how her personality is forming as she gets older. What’s been interesting to me is that I see so much of my older daughter’s best friend (youngest child) in her, so I wonder if she is developing those stereotypical youngest child traits.

  11. Tiffany says:

    Yes, fascinating stuff (kind of like Myers-Briggs). I’m a middle but with a sister who is 9+ years older than me. So I can be both an oldest and middle and I definitely see that in my life.

  12. Jessica says:

    Ohhhhh, this is so interesting. I’ve always loved the Myers-Briggs and someone just told me about the enneagram. I’ll have to check this out. I’m the oldest child and from everything I’ve gathered over the years, I’ll bet I fit squarely into the description. I’m new to your blog so I’m excited to see what other cult classics you recommend 🙂

  13. Debbie says:

    YES! I love this book. I am a Functional Firstborn/Functional Only Child (my only sibling, a brother, is 8 years older than me.). It’s fun to read about myself, my children, and the different birth order pairings in marriage (I’m married to a Baby of the family). Excellent read!

  14. Breanne says:

    This is going to be a great month, I can tell already. 😉 I’ve read this book years ago and loved it. I’m a second-born but in my family of nine siblings, we repeat the first, middle, youngest personalities. It’s pretty funny actually. There are three girls and then six boys so it’s like we have three oldests, three middles, and three youngest with their own unique personalities but still a lot in common with each other.

  15. Jeannie says:

    Very interesting! I’m a middle child as well as being the only girl (I have 4 brothers). I think both those factors contribute to my being the peacemaker/bridge-builder in the family, always wanting to bring all sides together harmoniously.

  16. Leanne says:

    I am reading this book right now, and was just planning a blog post on it for the end of the week! I guess you beat me to it. At first, I was fascinated by the theory, especially the “functional first-born” personality- that describes my dad perfectly. He was LAST born of four children, but because the next oldest boy was ten years older, and he grew up mostly with his sisters, he became a “functional first-born,” and exhibits those tendencies.
    I am a bit surprised that you, as a first-born, felt validated by the book. I’m a “classic” first-born too, and as I read along, I often felt attacked by Leman as he constantly looked at my birth order through the lens of perfectionism. Yes, it’s a strong characteristic of first-borns, but what about leadership, organization, or other qualities that are more positive life skills? I felt like he was saying that first-borns will (almost all) be too hard on their children and (mostly) end up divorcing their spouses. It’s a pretty negative viewpoint, even if there is validity to it.

  17. Christine says:

    I work in a field that generally requires you to be somewhat anal, a stickler for details and rules are not negotiable. There are federal and international rules to follow. At one time there were 9 coordinators in my office. One of them drove the rest of us crazy with her fly by the seat of your pants work habits. There were 6 only children, 2 first borns and 1 youngest ( not just youngest but an oops menopause baby). Can you guess which one drove everyone else nuts??

  18. Ana says:

    This is the kind of stuff that initially fascinates me, and then annoys me, and then bores me. Yes even Myers-Briggs falls into that category. Its such a cool THEORY, because wouldn’t it be so great to be able to understand why you are the way you are (and how you will turn out, and what kinds of pursuits and relationships will work out the best for you). but in reality there are so so many exceptions, and the idea that people can be so easily labelled and boxed up just doesn’t jive. I also think the birth-order stuff (and even the personality stuff) can be self-perpetuating. Knowing you are the first-born and should be the responsible one might drive you to continue down that path. In fact, a friend and I were talking about how we both shape our views on things based on the fact that we are introverts—like “oh I would HATE that, I’m an introvert”, when perhaps we should be more open-minded.

  19. MJ says:

    I love this book! I LOVE all forms of self-analysis, self-labeling, and self- whatever. I’m a youngest BUT there are 8, 10 and 12 years between me and my siblings, so that tends to put me in more of the only/first child group, since really I grew up around only adults. Anyway, fun and super interesting stuff!

  20. Anna says:

    I’ve never read the full book, but my parents did so I was aware of the concept as a teenager and I think we all pay attention to birth order now. I’m the second of four which means I share middle child duties with my little sister. I got all the peacemaker tendencies and she got all the angst. I’m happy with that arrangement. 😉

  21. I read this book twenty years ago and loved it. (But then I’m a firstborn!) It described my family and friends perfectly. But then I met my husband. He is one of three kids and his family blows Leman’s theories to smithereens. It would be interesting to go back and read this through adult eyes now. I don’t recall the book being negative towards firstborns, either.

    On a different note, I love, love, love the graphic for your 31 day series!

  22. I cried so hard when I read this book (in middle school) that my mom made me stop. I was reading about perfectionism, relating completely and feeling totally hopeless about it.
    I’m pretty sure I’ve recovered 🙂

  23. Jennifer H says:

    I’m pretty sure I read this, and also one that talked about best relationships. For instance, I think I remember that two first born spouses would have a lot of conflict, but that a first born and a last born usually had a works-for-them dynamic because they were used to that with their siblings.

  24. Karianna says:

    I have not read the book and have other theories to know that I am a classic first-born. Couple that with my being an ISTJ and you know how much fun I can be to be around! Finding out personality stuff is just plain fun, whether you are talking nature or nurture, I mean, I was a latch-key kid back in the 80s… I wonder what effect that had on my personality and subsequent parenting decisions.

  25. Amy says:

    Birth Order has interested me since I read that book at about…14? It was in my house so I read it.

    I am at an interesting place in my family. I am the second of four kids, with one older brother and two younger sisters. Both within my immediate family and in my generation on my mom’s side though, I’m the oldest girl. I’ve always felt more like the oldest kid than the squeezed middle child!

  26. Crystal Rose says:

    I’ve never read the book but I’m reasonably familiar with the theory- and I’ve always hated it. I’m an only child who was raised by a divorced then-alcoholic mother. Every time birth order was brought up I got to listen to people parrot on about how I received extra attention and what not. I wanted to lash out every time I had to sit through their self-satisfied smile upon labeling me as spoiled.

    Now that I’m older and a mom of my own I can see how aspects of this might apply to a “traditional” family. However it’s not 50’s anymore. Times and families have changed. I would rather just read my sun-sign horoscope. I’m sure that it too is true for some virgos.

  27. Aurelas says:

    I thought it was pretty accurate, but then I’m a first born lol. My husband also fits the part of the only child very well–more well than I ever knew until I’d been married to him for a few years! I have to say though, I don’t think it’s an exact thing. While I have a lot of the characteristics of the first born, complete with lots of guilt and perfectionism, I have ended up being the one sort of drifting aimlessly (albeit while taking care of my child) and most likely to end up working fast food again while my little sister has landed a career that I was unable to get. We’ll blame it on younger sibling charm 😉

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