Weekends these days are a time for rest and rejuvenation. As I mentioned in a previous post, writing as a career has proven to be mentally and physically exhausting. This weekend I stumbled upon the reason. Okay, here’s the situation…
I always fancied myself an introvert. I was that loner girl who melted into the background like a lizard in camouflage around strangers. At home, I was the dorky, sickly middle child who laughed too much and couldn’t be cool if you swaddled me in a blanket of ice cubes, though my three siblings were both cool and popular. At school I was the brainy, oversharer who tried too hard to get everyone to like me while not allowing them to actually know me (yes, it’s weird). I never felt at home in my own skin, so I didn’t think anyone else would accept me for me. As a result, I developed an intense interest in how other people experienced life in their skins. I enjoyed getting to know people through one-on-one conversations and preferred to be alone with my thoughts. I was an introvert.
As I grew into my teen years, I was labeled “shy”. “Introvert” was the word my guidance counselor used during a class presentation. She separated us into two groups based on our answers to a personality evaluation. I was in the group with Trevor, the booger eater, sad Sarah, crazy Keith, silent Elijah and my best friend, Karen. I looked across the room at all of the other kids that everyone liked, all of the kids that made the teacher light up. They were popular and happy. They walked through the world like their poop didn’t stink. They were all labelled “extroverts”. Why couldn’t I be in that group? More importantly, what were my and Karen’s mean nicknames?
I wanted to be like them, the extroverts. I didn’t want to be thrust into the same category as Trevor, the booger eater. Studying people came naturally to me, so I devised a plan. I would simply copy the behaviors of the most popular extroverts, and I would magically be inducted into the group. Voila!
For a time, life seemed to be as simple as that. I became the captain of the cheerleading squad. In a gym of 1200 people, all eyes were on me. I both relished the attention and wanted to escape behind the bleachers. I buzzed with energy when I went to fairs or amusement parks with friends but dreaded being in the same places by myself. At parties or clubs or any situation in which I actively participated, I felt enlivened. However, at sporting events or any place where I was a passive spectator, I was sapped of energy. I was confused. Had I actually become an extrovert, or were my true introverted colors hidden behind a façade?
As an adult, I accepted the nuisances of personality. Just because people could relate to characteristics of “this” did not preclude them from also identifying with “that”. The Myers Briggs Type Indicator reinforced this truth when my grad school cohort participated in the assessment (find a truncated version here). The MBTI is supposed to identify a preference between extraversion and introversion, sensing and intuiting, thinking and feeling, perceiving and judging. I was an ENTJ (the commander). Then, I was an ENFP. At the end of the course, I was another combination of the four that I do not remember.
How was that possible? I did not lie during the assessment. What would be the point in that? I truly wanted to gain a better insight into how I interact and learn, so I could optimize my educational experience. Yet, I could not even get a clear answer about my behavioral tendencies. I must have broken the test.
I took the truncated version of the assessment this morning in preparation for this post. Again, I was classified as an ENTJ-T (turbulent commander…yikes).
As much as I like to imagine that I am fully self-aware, I still stumble upon obvious character traits that an amateur psychologist would notice within minutes of meeting me. For example, I started dozing off as I read a book on the stationary cycle at the gym. I decided to continue reading in my car where I could comfortably snooze while my daughter finished her training session. On my way out to the parking lot, I met a friend. She asked a question which led into a spiraling conversation. An hour later, I was completely renewed and energized.
Hold on a minute. If I’m an introvert, why do I feel drained when I am alone and invigorated around other people? Before this weekend, I did not see the correlation between isolation and my recent fatigue. Because I am alone all day in my office, I do not interact with another soul. I don’t take phone calls, and I stopped going to my gym classes, which provided the bulk of my socialization during the week. I have been lethargic, because I have stopped participating in all of the activities that energized me.
Here’s the deal, we all have tendencies and preferences that vary according to our circumstances. There is no harm in taking a personality assessment to gain a better understanding of how we operate. These tests only become dangerous if we allow the results to limit us or rely on them as definitive proof of our capabilities (or lack thereof).
Knowing myself, I would agree that I tend to be more of an extrovert. Though I enjoy my alone time, too much of it can leave me feeling wiped out. I now realize that, growing up, I used solitude as a cloak to hide my insecurities while simultaneously craving the limelight. Though I loved attention, I feared everyone would turn on me if they found out who I really was– a dorky nobody pretending to be someone special.
Now that I have learned to embrace my dorkiness, I am working toward trusting others enough to let them see me as I am. I hope that you also find the courage to be your amazing, spectacular, incredible, unique self, regardless of what some silly test tells you. Cheers to the journey!