This month I’ve been asked more than ever before what my personality type is, if I’m an introvert or extrovert, and what number on the enneagram I am.
My answer? I don’t know.
It’s honestly the truth: I don’t. Some of the reasoning behind this is intentional, some of it a mix of laziness, ignorance, and/or confusion (i.e., I took the test and got three different results three different times). Personality tests in themselves are not bad; systems like the enneagram have achieved new levels of attention and thoughtfulness in recent years, and I have to believe that those who sing its praises are not to be totally written off.
Yet from my perspective (a biased one, it should be noted), it seems that the more people take an interest in knowing about personality types and tests, the more nervous I am about the whole system. Most of the time I think people’s motivations in using personality tests are not bad—likely they want to figure out how to work best with me, how to not offend me, things along those lines. But sometimes in these kind of exchanges, I can’t help but feel like the numbers or letters I’m asked to give do not make me feel more known, but judged, distanced, and honestly isolated.
They say, “There’s no wrong answer!” but it kind of feels like there’s a best answer…and I might not have it. What if I don’t say the number you wanted to hear? What if my personality has demons you don’t want to deal with? What if my sense of humor is different from yours? We say it doesn’t matter…but do we really believe that?
Personality tests can be an aid to better figure out if I have a problem with authority, do better in a certain physical environment, or if I like parties. But beyond that, they can’t tell you what my favorite TV show is, what my family is like, what I am excited about the most this month, or what memories I enjoy recalling the most. They are limited. They point out things about a person, but they do not determine who a person is or is not.
Here’s the thing about getting to know someone new (a stranger, a new co-worker, etc.): shortcuts don’t really work. Personality is one aspect of a person, one piece of who they are. But there are things beyond personality that make up a person. Getting to know someone, in my opinion, is like training for a marathon. Sure, there are training plans out there that claim to have you marathon ready in a couple of months, that give you quick tips to succeed. Those tips aren’t all dumb, but any decent running coach will tell you that achieving your highest potential as a runner and getting the most out of the experience requires months and months of hard work, cross training, discipline, and countless long runs. It takes patience, perseverance, and a whole lot of chaffing.
When we meet someone new, we like when there are shortcuts. We love the instant-click, the obvious chemistry, the shared interests. None of those things are bad, but what happens when we meet someone new and it, well…falls a little flat? Some of my best friends in college were people who I didn’t necessarily have that “instant click” with, whose personalities I wrote off as being “not my type.” Fortunately God has a sense of humor and a whole lot of grace that I got a second, third, and fourth chance to become friends with people who I initially wrote off. They went on to be people whose weddings I’ve been in, whose babies I’ve held, and whose text messages are always at the top of my inbox.
Shortcuts didn’t work with these friends. And thank goodness they did not, or I would have missed out.
As I continue to be in a season where meeting new people is what my life is, I get why people want to know what my personality type is, what my pet peeves are, whether I like to big groups or small groups when they first meet me. But. Call me a narcissist, call me insecure, call me whatever you want, but all I’m sayin’ is: if you’re going to ask me about a number or a series of letters, ask me something else, too.
Ask me; I’ll tell you what you want to know. I’ll tell you things like this:
I like to laugh, but I also cry in the car sometimes. I get fired up about certain things like (serious) public school teachers or (fun) Steelers football. I desire both time with people and home alone. I am complicated because I am a being made in the image of an infinitely complex Creator.
I share these thoughts about personality tests today not as a complaint to the internet, as a chance to scold personality test fans, or to even write off personality tests themselves. Personality assessments are tools, helpful to have at our disposal as we journey through life. More than anything, I write these thoughts today about the long-game, marathon, and sometimes-causes-chaffing process of getting to know someone because I need accountability.
As I desire to be known by others, am I doing the hard work of getting to know others, too? Am I willing to to the hard and awkward work of getting to know someone without shortcuts? Find friends outside of groups and labels I normally would gravitate towards? I am challenging myself in this new season and others too, wherever you are, to look beyond the labels either we take on or others give us and do the hard and awkward work of getting to know someone without shortcuts. What people are we missing out on knowing because we decide we already know them, already write them off because of a series of numbers, letters, or traits, or even what they do for a living, what they don’t do for a living, how they talk, what they look like, and so many other arbitrary things that we use to place people in the boxes we want them to stay in?
I exist. You do, too. And here we are, existing together. More than likely, we’re going to exist here together for quite a while. So let’s settle in. Get our hands dirty. Let’s use the tools at our disposal to use our differences as leverage. Let’s let curiosity drive our conversations.
Let’s look to the other and think, “What’s he doing over there?” and instead of sitting and from far away, we can get up, walk over to where he is, and ask him that question while we look at him in the eye: face to face.
There is so much more to know about each other. Let’s dive deep.
Quote from Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson