How I made Peace with Being a Walking , Talking Paradox
I am a very complex person. You know that delightful Myers-Briggs test? (I recommend taking it yourself. It's fun.) Well I have been given it over the years, by friends, co-workers, and counselors all clamoring to know what my “type” is. I smile weakly at them and comply, taking their latest version of the test, and show them the results. They ohh and ahh and go “ah yes, that is so you.” I smile and nod.
I avoid telling them, however, that I took it just last night and got a completely different set of letters.
Behind the curtain there was a man
Don’t get me wrong. I love profiling people. I also love Carl Jung, the original creator of the concepts behind the separate categories for the test. His work on the archetypal aspects found in human culture is both fascinating and still significant. He believed in an underlying subconscious of humanity, where we all share similar characteristics and aspirations. It's the place where myths are born and legends are formed. He created the ideas that there are underlying, ever-present themes in human personality and that people can be grouped accordingly. The problem with his thoughts on personality is that they deal with polarities. A notion that if you are not one, then you must be the other.
Oh sure, there is some grey wiggle room, in the totality you lean one way or the other. That's always meant little to me, as I have tested as high as 90% on one side (intuitive) and the next week tested at about 40% the exact opposite (sensing). Isabel Myers and her mother-in-law Catherine Briggs were both highly interested in Jung's theory of "types" and developed the test to help women entering the work force back during WWII. Like Jung, they used personal observations to categorize people - leaving the test open to much scrutiny and criticism. My friends try to console my lack of “finding myself” by smiling, telling me it doesn't matter much, and then enjoying their own happily fitting categories. I sit haplessly by, frustrated with my plethora of boxes to try and pick from.
I haven't a clue who I am
I know it shouldn’t bother me that much, but it does. For two particular reasons. One, because I feel as if I am being pushed and pulled into one of only two options. I have to make a decision, regardless if either option is relevant to me. Most of the wording is vague and unhelpful. They often use vocabulary that leads to false dichotomies such as “do you prefer this over that?” Meaning that “no” results automatically in you preferring the opposite, rather than offering the possibility of preferring both or none of the options. The second reason is because it tries to oversimplify very complex processes and concepts so they can easily fit into 16 perfect little boxes. The 8 different letters you can be (Introverted/Extroverted, Feeling/Thinking, Sensing/Intuitive, Judging/Perceiving) often make precious little sense to me as what the differences between them actually are. I still don’t know the difference between judging and perceiving. I don’t think I ever will.
My least favorite part about utilizing the test is the people who love it and swear by it who always seem to be lurking nearby when I take it. When I try to explain that I don’t fit into the test they go into lecture mode. When I say that it in no way could define me, as I hopelessly shrug my shoulders, they tell me that I’m just not “getting” the test. That I’m not being “honest” enough with myself. Or that I “overthink” and I’m pretty sure it’s been implied that I “underthink” it. I’ve actually been called a sheep for not being able to test into a category regularly. My personal favorite description of people like me is “molded and averaged-out nobodies.” Meaning that I have no personality of my own and I will bow to whatever outside pressure comes my way. While I know those advocates are some of less savory people in the world those comments are still hurtful. They still reek of my actual problem with the test: that something might be wrong with me. That I might actually be a sheep. If I can’t define myself with simple yes or no questions how could I possibly make it in the world?
I like to joke that I’m a walking, talking paradox. Nothing proves this better than the Myers-Briggs test. It’s my one pleasure from this headache-resulting-personality-crisis-causing test. As I told my roommate when she had me take it: “I just want to fit in!” But the happy marriage between my multifaceted personality and the Meyers-Briggs love of symmetry and order was just never meant to be.
It was in the middle of all this anxiety over who I was and just who I would become that I had a revelation. I cared so much for trying to figure out what I was that I stopped paying attention to who I was. It’s an important distinction. I looked at all the parts of myself and was dissatisfied that I couldn’t neatly pack them away. Now, when I look back, I realize how stupid I was being. How narrow minded. It wasn’t about my parts or pieces, the cogs or the wheels. It was about the whole picture. It was stunningly empowering to step back and look at all the things that I am and not see separate, unconnected, impossible to place traits but rather how each of those traits made something completely and delightfully new. I finally understood what it meant when people say “the whole is more than the sum of its parts.”