Tag Archives: personality tests

Why Personality Tests Are Useful

Lord Voldemort

Lord VoldemortI 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!!

Image: Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter) by Hersson Piratoba via Flickr

 

Friday Pix: Some Recommended Reading For The Weekend

myers briggs

myers briggsOn occasional Fridays, I point you towards some recommended reading around the blogosphere:

a. As a long-time This American Life fan, I found this piece by Ira Glass about the death of a grown-up friend very moving.

b. A friend sent through a terrific-looking list of books about growth in middle age. I can’t wait to dive in.

c. If you like taking personality tests and especially Myers-Briggs, you will love this piece on the definition of hell for each Myers-Briggs type. Calling all fellow ENTJs!

d. And speaking of middle age, anyone who is a Simon & Garfunkle fan will relish this recent and unexpected reunion of Simon and Garfunkle.

e. If, in contrast, your tastes run more towards The Wire, try prying yourself away from this new game: Where’s Wallace?

f. Finally, in lighter fare, The Buzz Feed has some fun recirculating the response to President Trump’s accidentally tweeting the word “We.”

Have a great weekend!

Image: Myers Briggs by Eric E. Castro via Flickr

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Think About Personality Types

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always been fascinated by attempts to document personality types.

Part of that fascination surely stems from the fact that in another life, I’d be a psychotherapist.

And part of it  is that as I go about the networking process that is part and parcel of looking for a job, I’m coming into contact with all sorts of personality types along the way.

If you pay someone to advise you on changing careers these days, the very first thing they’ll likely do is administer a personality test to see what career paths you’re suited to. Personality tests are also increasingly part of the recruitment and promotions process at top firms.

I’ve had my own brush with them along the way, recounted in this post, about how – for better or for worse , my own essential personality “type” doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years. But I’m always excited to learn about new ways to parse personality.

So, how should we think about personality types?

1. Extrovert vs. Introvert. Extroversion/introversion is one of the four key dimensions of the famous Myers Briggs Type Indicator which remains the gold standard for many in assessing personality types. But until I stumbled upon this informative (and extremely funny) piece in the Atlantic by Jonathan Rauch entitled Caring For Your Introvert, I think I’d misunderstood the essential difference between the two. It’s not – as many people think – a distinction between shy and gregarious.  Introverts are not, in fact, necessarily shy if that means that they hate being around other people and/or other people make them anxious. It’s that their relative need to be around other people is much lower than that of the extrovert, who feeds off of constant interaction. For the introvert, as Rauch puts it (borrowing from Sartre), “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Whereas if you leave the extrovert alone for two minutes, “he will reach for his cellphone.” Love it!

2. Personality Style. I’m thinking here of the widely-used DISC personality assessment, which focuses a bit less on “type” than on “style.” DISC identifies  four key behavioral styles, which they label D (drive), I (insight), S (steadiness) and C (compliance). What I like about this way of thinking about personality (as opposed to the more nuanced but complicated Myers Briggs assessment) is that it gives you a sort of over-arching “flavor” for people you encounter, each of which has a set of prevailing traits, strengths and weaknesses. In my old job, for example, once I learned that as a (high!) D (dominant/forceful/task-oriented), I was sharing an office with a high S (reliable, dependable, process-oriented), so many things came to make sense and I could adjust my own interactions accordingly.

3. Birth Order. Another way to think about personality types is that of birth order. In brief, birth order suggests that where you fall in a family vis your siblings has a huge impact on how you behave. So, for example, the eldest (according to this theory) tends to be sharp, responsible and success-oriented, the youngest is more rebellious and risk-seeking and the middle child is an agreeable team-player. I know plenty of exceptions to this rule but as an arm-chair theory of personality types, I think it shows a lot of promise.

4. Manager vs. Maker. A useful dichotomy of personality within the workplace is the manager vs. the maker. On one side of this divide, you have a group of workers – usually managers – who divide their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job. On the other side, you have “makers” – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – who need large blocks of time to carry out tasks and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity. I love this schema, because it cuts across professions to get to the core of what matters in a job: how you like to spend your day in terms of tasks.

5. Personality For Play. I learned about this personality matrix on Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project blog. Gretchen borrows it from Stuart Brown, who’s written a book about the importance of play. Brown identifies seven key personality types for play, things like the joker, the collector, the explorer and the narrator. Again, no science here; pure observation. But I think there are some important insights to be gleaned for everyday interaction.

What about you? How do you sort people by type?

Image: Occasionally Slightly Louder by Von Krankipantzen via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons The Elegance Of The Hedgehog Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week I’d like to take a page from Gretchen Rubin, who blogs over on The Happiness Project. From time to time, Gretchen will identify a book or movie that she thinks encapsulates certain key ideas about happiness and blog about them. (Here’s one example:  a post about the movie Junebug.) I did this recently for adulthood and the film Up In The Air.

In that vein, I’ve just finished reading Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance Of The Hedgehog for my book club. This is a very small, intimate novel about an exceedingly well-educated concierge in a Paris apartment building and her relationships with its tenants. In addition to thoroughly enjoying it, here are five reasons I think that this book is essential reading for grown ups:

1. It’s about social class. Not a very American topic, I grant you. (Unless you bought into the whole John Edwards “Two Americas” thing- oh those were the days…). But boy, does it resonate over here in the U.K. right now, where social mobility is a major theme in the upcoming British elections. (Not to mention a time-honored theme in France, where the novel is set.) And to me, that’s a very grown-up topic for a novel.

2. It’s about the possibility of change. Which is – perhaps more than anything else – what defines adulthood, at least for me. Sure, all those personality tests I’ve taken basically confirm that I’m the same person I’ve always been. But growing up is about being open to change. It’s about knowing that  – however sure you are of yourself – there’s always a possibility that you’ll discover something new. Or find out that something you thought was closed off to you is actually within reach. Or just recognize when it’s time to make a bold move.

3. It’s about love. But not of the sappy, head-over-heels variety. Rather, it’s about the love of one’s friends. It’s about the love you can experience when you connect with strangers. And it’s about the possibility – but just that – of romantic love.

4. It has an appropriately bittersweet ending. Some will no doubt be disappointed by how this book ends. I won’t spoil it for you. But as a die-hard fan of feelbad movies, I loved reading a book where the ending was less than 100% hunky-dorey. That’s life, as they say.

5. It’s about Paris. And what – pray tell – is more grown up than that?

*****

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about the central role that women voters will play in the upcoming British General Election.

Image: Hedgehog skin by gari.baldi via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Tangible Signs That You're Middle Aged

“Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle.”

–Bob Hope


Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Yesterday, I talked about middle age as a set of attitudes. Today I’d like to complement that idea with five concrete signs that you’re middle aged:

1.You start re-reading classics. I’m a big believer in the value of re-reading. But while in Waterstone’s the other day (UK equivalent of Borders), I saw a bookmark entitled “50 Books To Read Before You Die.” And suddenly I had this panic attack that I hadn’t read every single book on the list.  As it happened, I was already re-reading Wuthering Heights for my book group. But as soon as I saw that bookmark, I ran back to embrace Heathcliff with reckless abandon!

2.You leave Parties Before Midnight. I remember once taking this personality test which asked “Do you leave parties before or after midnight?” I dismissed the question entirely because at that point in my life, I didn’t show up to parties until after midnight. Boy, how times have changed. And it’s not just that I now have to pay a sitter when I go out. I actually find myself craving the solitude of…well, Heathcliff.

3. You decline alcohol because you need to exercise the next day. OK, in truth I don’t do this all that much. But I do restrain myself far more than I once did. For heaven’s sake, I used to smoke a cigarette *after* returning from a run. Or go running…to escape a hangover. Now my aging body does the mental calculation of how that morning run will feel after just one glass of wine and I find myself re-considering it.

4. You Start Renting BBC Mini-Series. It’s one of those sad truths of parenting that once you have kids, you never go out to movies anymore. My husband and I thought we’d be different than everyone else on this score but, of course, we’re not. Sure, we go to see a few of the big hits every year. I’m too much of an Oscar fan to skip those. But most of the time we rent movies about six months behind their release date. Lately, however, we have found ourselves renting assorted BBC mini-series that ran – gasp – in like the 80’s. Worse, we find them bizarrely addictive. Don’t believe me? Check out House of Cards. Tell me if you’re not hooked after Episode One.

5. You buy that Joni Mitchell album. You know that one – Both Sides Now – where she goes back and sings…Both Sides Now, except that her tone’s a little more plaintive, a little more somber, a little more…middle-aged. Worse, you buy it because you saw it featured in Love, Actually in that scene with Emma Thompson crying in the bedroom. And it’s haunted you ever since. Admit it. It has.

*****

Check out my response to the latest study showing the costs of unsafe abortions worldwide.

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Image: Joni Mitchell self-portrait by Jenny J via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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