I took a personality test recently. It was one of those memes circulating on Facebook in which you are told which Harry Potter character you most resemble based on your Myers Briggs personality type.
Mine was Lord Voldemort. According to this quiz, Voldy (a classic ENTJ) is all about “ambition, leadership, and borderline-ruthless rationality.” I was momentarily disheartened. I mean, seriously, who wants to model themselves on Lord Voldemort? (My 24 year-old niece, a huge Harry Potter fan in her day, quickly rushed to assure me that Voldemort’s not all bad).
At first –as I am wont to do when confronted with a personality profile I don’t like – I decided that the test was wrong. Until not one, but both, of my children (who seem to be agreeing more and more about me of late) nodded their heads emphatically and said “Oh, You’re totally Lord Voldemort.”
This most recent brush with my inner Voldemort gets at a deeper truth. One of the reasons I like doing personality quizzes is that they don’t just reveal things you are good at, but also force you to confront things that you might not like about yourself.
The latest typology out there that drove this point home for me is Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies. Her typology is quite different to Myers Briggs – it’s all about how you respond to expectations, both external ones set by others and internal ones you place on yourself. This yields four types (someone really needs to study why personality tests always cluster into fours…)
There are the upholders – those who respond readily to both outer and inner expectations, questioners who question all expectations and will meet an expectation only if they believe it is justified, obligers, who respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to met inner ones and rebels, who resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. (Take the Four Tendencies quiz here.)
Once you look more carefully at the characteristics associated with each type, it’s not difficult to attach them to people you know.
I was having lunch the other day with a friend, for example, and when I asked how her husband was doing she responded: “Oh, you know, he wakes up every day and no one tells him what he has to do. He has complete freedom. So he’s really happy.” (He’s a rebel, I thought to myself.)
My daughter falls into the obliger camp. She’s superb at following instructions if given an assignment by one of her teachers or told by one of her coaches to start running twice a week to keep in shape. But she can sometimes struggle to hit targets she sets for herself, like reading a certain amount each day or practicing her instruments regularly.
My son is totally different. He is great at doing anything he decides is a priority. I can’t remember the last time I had to remind him to do his homework or to practice his violin. But if the school decides that the boys need to wear a certain tie or tap in with their student ID card when they arrive each day? Then, not so much – unless that external rule conforms to his internal view of what is appropriate. He’s a questioner.
I am definitely an upholder – someone who, as Gretchen puts it – wakes up and asks “What’s on the Schedule and the to-do list for today?” On the upside, upholders tend to be punctual, reliable and self-directed. They are excellent at meeting deadlines. (Rubin is one herself.) But they also struggle in situations where expectations aren’t clear or the rules aren’t established. Because they feel compelled to meet expectations, they tend to feel uneasy when they know they’re breaking the rules, even unnecessary rules, unless they work out a powerful justification for doing so.
In my own case I take this tendency one step further. I tend to walk around with what I call a panel of elders – a semi-circle of aging wise men whom I imagine to be collectively monitor my every move. And so when I confront a setting – as I did quite recently – where what’s expected of me isn’t entirely clear, I super-impose my panel of elders onto the situation at hand, imputing a set of rules that I decide need to be followed, but which may not even exist. Worse, I chastise myself relentlessly if I can’t follow them. (Yes, I’m insane. But it’s all a response to fuzzy rules.)
I often think that growing up isn’t so much about adopting a wholesale change in who you are as it is about learning how to champion your strengths and recognize and combat your weaknesses. Stated somewhat differently, personality tests help me to improve myself, over time.
Oh God! Is that an upholder trait?! Help!!