Know Thyself

In the past few months, my best friend and I have become inadvertent personality scholars.

I don’t quite remember how it started. We bought the same book, Better than Before, about temperament and habit formation. Then we hit a streak where, ironically, we got competitive about reading Quiet, the book on introverts (which we both are). Then during the semester, she read a Myers-Briggs textbook, and we figured out each of our personalities and those of our respective husbands, and read each feature of each personality to oblivion.

(In case you were wondering, I’m a shy introvert, an obliger with a rebel streak, an INFP with a turbulent nature, and a highly-sensitive person. On the Pinterest chart of introverted types as pets, I’m a cute cuddly mouse. According to Buzzfeed, which is even more scientific than Pinterest, I’m a meerkat.)

At some point Jenny asked me whether I thought our newfound knowledge of personality types made us almost too knowledgeable. “Do you think it might make us not rely on God enough?” she wondered. In our shared spiritual tradition, there’s a principle of recognizing, with humility, that we as human beings don’t know everything. And we certainly didn’t want to know so much we became smug, unable to relate to people without first asking the four letters of their Myers-Briggs personality type.

“I find it’s making me rely on him more,” I answered. For one thing, I need guidance outside of myself for putting my newfound knowledge to good use. Also, knowing a lot makes me that smug asshole. So I need help with that too.

But in all seriousness, figuring out how to use one’s knowledge of oneself is incredibly important. Learning so much about myself has taught me that I’m not always as impervious to cultural peer pressure as I think I am. Sometimes I adopt the values of my environment because everyone else thinks those values are common sense, when in reality they often squelch the very strengths I have. And then instead of being thoughtful about my nature, I’ve often been the hardest squelcher of them all, thinking I must fix myself in some way.

I’ve worked fast-paced jobs, but I’m a more quiet, deliberate person. I’ve worked in environments that encourage making sales, but I value authenticity and good causes. I’ve put myself in situations where I am expected to be chatty and engaging and to connect with a ton of people in any given day, but to me connection is something you can’t force. It must be deep and intentional and take a lot of time.

All of this pushing against my own nature has left me frustrated and even more disappointed with who I am. But when Jenny and I started studying personalities, (admittedly) becoming greater nerds on the subject, something clicked. It’s no longer a matter of changing myself to fit a mold, but rather of finding a mold that I can fit into already, a mold with a shape I fit and room I can grow in.

The catch, of course, is that we all have to spend our lives figuring out the tension between who we are and what life is, between who we should be and what life should be. We have to figure out when it’s okay to change and when it’s okay to stick to our nature, when it’s appropriate to build on our strengths, and when it’s better to strengthen our weaknesses. This goes along with that spiritual principle of realizing that no matter how much I know, I don’t know everything. I need guidance and strength outside myself to make big decisions and little decisions, moment by moment, that will polish me more and more into the person I truly am.

So that’s step two.

4 thoughts on “Know Thyself

  1. Always good to hear about another book on Personality Types.
    The 16 Types are fascinating. My favorite book on them is “Life Types” by Hirsch & Kummerow. Amazon.com has it. Very informative and explained simply. Lots of good details.

    The frustration for me has always been when 2 or 3 Types seem like they are 85% true, but there’s always 1 or 2 things that are waaayy off. Sigh. I’ve come out as an ISTJ, and INTJ and also an ISTP> On top of that, I *feel* that I am much more outgoing, very much like an ENTP (but with better follow-through on getting things done). Also, like an INTP, sometimes onc I feel I really understand something, then I may quickly lose in it (no always) and move on to some other interesting thing.

    There’s more: These 1-word descriptions of each type that we often see. I think these are doing more damage than good. People look at them and OOOOOH, we get to be a “Visionary” if we’re an ENTP. Or most CEO’s are ENTJ’s and we wanna be that cuz it’s so cool to be in charge and project commanding leadership. Or maybe you want recognition for how caring you are so it’d be cool to be an ISFJ. All this is bad. We shouldn’t know, ahead of time. It skews the results and finding your accurate type. Same with picking the same type as anyone famous. My opinion. (but I am always right about these things. haha Just kidding….).

    On youtube, type in Living My Purpose and (4-letter type). This guy Mike Adams (not me) gives good info.

    One more thing, IMO, “functions” in Myers-Briigs personality types, are seriously over-emphasized. I know I am very much in the minority here, but who even talks about the 4-letters anymore?!? It’s all bogged-down and overly-involved with Introverted Intuition, Extroverted Sensing, etc…sooo much so, that it nearly might as well be a whole new system. Again, the Book Life Types seems pretty solid and informative to me. –theOwl30

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I agree; personality type studies can be tricky. I’ve scored as an INFP and as an INFJ, and I relate to a variety of personality profiles. For me, it’s fun to see what you are overall and then note the ways in which you differ. It’s just part of what makes human beings so unique and complex!

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