A few weeks ago, a co-worker at one of my client’s sites asked me if I knew what my personality was. My response was “not really” which is not 100% the truth. The truth, however, would have taken awhile to explain and both of us had just finished outlining our priority lists. In a nutshell, it was not the right time to go into my own personal journey into personality test hell and even if it was, I’m not sure I want to go there with someone I work with on a daily basis. You know, as opposed to going into therewith the entire Internet… but that’s a different matter entirely. Anyway, after years of being referred to as “Type A” while knowing I don’t fit the classic characteristics of a Type A personality, I am reluctant to use that as a fallback because, well I’m not. Am I a workaholic? Sure. I’ll take that one right on the chin. But I am not characteristically rude (okay there’s the Aspie thing but that has nothing to do with whether I am Type A or not and all about YOU accepting that if you ask me a question, you’re going to get an honest answer), I’m a pretty patient person, and I don’t have the short fuse that is generally associated with your typical Type A. I am a bit of a control freak over my own life but have no desire to control yours… or yours… or well, yours either for that matter. And yours, well you’re such a train wreck, I want no part of yours (sorry, Aspie moment).
At one point I was all about finding out “who I am” during and right after I left college. I dated a guy who loved Myers-Briggs personality tests and carried around a little book that had a series of assessments that he would fire off to people at random. And by random I mean we could be having a drink at a local bar and next thing you know, he’s harassing some poor soul who had the misfortune to sit next to me and say hi. The conversation would go a little like this: “Wow, that was brazen. I mean I’m sitting right here. You know, you’re probably an ESFJ which is why you would say hello to a girl who is obviously dating the guy she’s sitting next to! No, wait. Oops, my bad – she forgot to write “I’m with him” in sharpie across her forehead with a little arrow pointing to where I’m sitting. We’re having some trouble with that aspect of our relationship. I think she’s an ISTP but she won’t take the test again so we can really narrow down this passive aggressive tendency of hers…” Yeah, that little romance didn’t last long. And while I could blame the lack of romance factor or the embarrassment of him quizzing complete strangers in every social venue imaginable, what really did me in was the “freak” label he threw at me after weeks of trying to figure me out and failing. I wrote off Myers-Briggs as “Jung in the box” for social losers to use to label others and moved on. Classic personality types failed to categorize me as well as an old boss learned when he would complain one day of my “typical type A patterns” and then the next groan about how “type B nnd passive” I was. Sure, I can see the problem… I’m a workaholic (type A) who is productive and adaptive in stressful situations (type B), but who also loses my MIND if my time is wasted because of your ineptitude, ignorance or your inability to admit YOU JUST DON’T KNOW (yep this is type A… so, so type A). I also have a raging, functional case of OCD (type A) with controlled lifestyle habits (type B). I’m spontaneous (type B) except when I’m not (type A). To really confuse you, I’m also a deep thinker as in I need a plan (oh Hi, type C!!) and I’ve been called a robot and emotionally repressed (type C) more than a few times in my life. Granted the last time those labels were flung at me was a few jobs back when my married boss was hitting on me and I was so clueless I had no idea until half the company decided to inform me but hey, who’s counting. Oh wait, I am (type A). Since I am pretty asserted and emotional when I want to be (or am compelled to be) and since the usual robot/emotional repression issue comes up after using the word “NO” I’m not going to lend much weight to the argument that I have repression issues. And that said, if you know me, you know I have no problem with being assertive (type A) when the situation calls for it (type B).
The reality is that I’m not really good with labels and I certainly don’t fit into any one’s neat little box. For those of you not familiar with Jung or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (little navy blue book? You know the one carried around by pseudo-intellectuals and SNAGs all through the 90s? No?) here’s a quick summary. So, according to Jung, individuals are either born with, or develop, certain preferred ways of thinking and acting. Myers and Briggs broke this up into four opposite pairs, with a resulting 16 possible psychological types and theorized that individuals naturally prefer one overall combination of type differences. So you’re either extroverted or introverted, sensing or intuitive, a thinker or a feeler, or judgmental vs. perceptive. And while Myers and Briggs acknowledge you might have characteristics of both, the entire theory is that you have dominant traits, either inherent or evolved, that lend to your preferred way of thinking and acting. When I moved into human capital management I was surprised at how often the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator came up. HR (and many managers) use the MBTI during interviews. What, you think that list of questions HR came up with is random? Surprise, surprise – it’s not. As I delved deeper in HCM theory and philosophies, I started taking more personality tests. I even top graded myself. And while the results were clear as to what “team” I am on (the A team… haha! Got to love 80s television/hot Bradley Cooper movie references), I have frustrated more than a few HR team members. Why, you might ask? Well, just as one cannot ascribe a handedness to me – that’s right folks, I’m ambidextrous to the point I do not have a dominant hand – for reasons I sort of understand, I fall right in the middle of the MBTI spectrum. This makes me neither predominantly extroverted or introverted, neither predominantly sensing or intuitive, I think or I feel as the situation calls for it and while I can be extremely judgmental, I am also incredibly perceptive. Basically, this means if I am judging you, there is a damn good reason why. And you don’t like me at ALL for it.
I think a lot of this has to do with my upbringing. When you’re raised in an environment where nothing is constant or consistent you get really, really good at figuring out who you are supposed to be and how you are supposed to act at that moment and then adjust accordingly. Because if you don’t, no good – and potentially, physical harm – could come from adapting incorrectly. And while in high school I was well on the road to becoming a pathological liar with no identity or sense of self, it did help me in college and in the job market in my early 20s because I was a complete chameleon. I could figure out very quickly who you wanted me to be, be that person and make you happy. But since I wasn’t happy, and frankly, because it is exhausting being someone else, I burned out on the role, on the person and on the situation. So then I dropped out, quit and/or moved on. I met a LOT of people while I was between the ages of 16 and 25, liked few of them and really don’t know what happened to them or care (sorry, Aspie moment). I might have grown up to be some sort of psychotic (what? it’s genetic. trust me – go look at the side of the family I have nothing to do with) but then a crazy thing happened. I got pregnant at 24 and started wanting to know who I was, fundamentally, as a human being. And after years of therapy, and many, many personality tests, someone very wise (and well paid) therapist told me that who I am has little or nothing to do with some notion of “personality type” as ascribed to me by some test. That personality tests are nothing more than a convenient, and only sometimes accurate, way to put people in a little, comfortable box. So while I am still highly adaptive and still test right down the middle on the MBTI, I also recognize that I, like you and you (and well, not you, you really are kind of freaky), am simply me. I am an individual and therefore made up of the sum of all my parts. And while others may need to label me (and boy can you pick from your labels – Aspie, OCD, ginger, etc), I really have no need to label myself. Except, you know, when I do. And that’s good enough for me. Except when it’s not… and then I schedule another therapy session or call up one of my most excellent confidantes and chat it out and all is well for another day. But don’t worry – there’s always tomorrow.
So what personality box have you or others stuck you with in the ongoing, life-long pursuit to label yourself?