Saturday, August 27, 2011

8.29.2009 Know Thyself!

I'm a personal-assessment junkie.  I just love barreling through a series of questions about myself and then listening to someone's interpretation of what my answers mean about me.  I like the variety of self-knowledge you can gain: from the old standard MBTI personality indicator, the Gallup Strengths Finder, quizzes about leadership styles and communication styles, relationship descriptors, what-would-you-do-in-a-crisis studies, temperament tests, those that compare you to animals or to name it, I'd like to take it.

I know that many people hate these kinds of 'tests'; or, more accurately, they hate the outcome, hate the idea of being "put in a box" or have some label stuck to them as a result of some test.  I honestly think that these people simply don't know or don't want to know or don't want anyone else to know their true nature.

I used to teach a class that helped people clarify their purpose and passion in life, so I spent many years researching (and enjoying) the myriad assessments available.  And I found, in taking so many different quizzes, that one actually has to know quite a bit about herself in order to have an accurate result.  It's rather ironic - in order to 'discover' my personality, I have to 'know' my personality.  What I mean by this is that these questionnaires are simply that - questions about me.  It's not a test, where there is a right or wrong answer.  But you have to really and truly know who you are in order to answer the questions posed to you in a truthful manner.  And the problem is that many, many people do not really know themselves. 

Whenever I would discuss assessment results with people in my class, there would inevitably be discrepancies between the descriptive outcome and the person's perception of himself.  People would always claim that the 'test' was 'wrong,'  But they answered the questions!  So either the response they gave was inaccurate or they aren't really who they think they are.  In either case, this can shake a person up quite a bit. 

These assessments, I believe, rather than narrow us into a little box, are instead meant to free us from the box of who everyone else thinks or expects us to be.  They allow us to claim that "this" is truly who I am.  Many people take these assessments and answer questions based on the expectations that their family, or their social situation, or their current employer, have.  But when they look at the big picture - because every specific question, though it assesses one part of a person, fits into a greater whole that describes how the person is in a holistic context - that picture often doesn't fit with a person's experience of himself. 

For example, for most of my life, any assessment I took indicated that I was a planner.  I thought I was this incredibly responsible, well-planned and organized person.  But once I started teaching this class and thinking more deeply about myself, I realized that I answered questions about planning/organization in the positive because I have always been a leader.  I have always been in positions where people expected me to be well-thought out, to have things in order.  And I CAN do that.  But in my heart of hearts, I absolutely HATE doing that!  In my truest self, I love spontaneity, I love to solve problems on the fly, and I can't be bothered to organize my files or notes or desk (or life).  I'm a risk taker!  And as I reflected on my past leadership, I could see that I actually did lead that way, it's just that to everyone else, it appeared that I was this pre-meditated, neat little planner.  

The freedom of recognizing, of knowing, myself works in two wonderful directions: first, it helps me not put myself in positions where I am forced to work in opposition to my nature.  Instead, I seek out opportunities and teams and supervisors who understand me and allow me to thrive in my way.  What a joy!  But second, it helps explain (NOT EXCUSE) situations where I feel stress or tension - especially in relationships!  I cannot use any of these assessments as an excuse for failure, irresponsibility, hurtfulness, or any other unkind response to those around me; but I can understand what is going on inside me that causes the problem.  I can understand that my personality tends towards arrogance and, therefore, take great care to listen twice as much as I speak, and if I really must open my mouth, to do it with gentleness.  To learn humility.  What a lesson!   

I love knowing myself because it gives me the best chance to become the best person I was made to be.  And I love knowing others just as well so that I can encourage them to become the best version of themselves.  I'm sure Socrates didn't have the MBTI in mind when he urged his students to look within but I figure it can't hurt.     

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