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The Tests Who Think They Know Me

Dissing the Stars

I’ve always thought that horoscopes were ridiculous.

Here you have a series of predictions, ostensibly that will apply to everyone, but there are only a dozen of them in total. This means that everyone on earth has been divided into 12 groups, and each person in a group will have a remarkably similar day.

Seems logical…on opposite day!

Not only that, but where do these ‘facts’ come from? My guess is there are people who really buy the whole concept, who meticulously go over god-knows-what old documents and star maps to figure out what may happen and then they guess based on what they come up with. And then the other 99% of the industry consists of writers who have a talent for vagueness so that anything they write can be taken and twisted to fit what happened to almost anyone that day.

Knowing this, you can imagine my hesitation the first time I was to take the Meyers-Briggs personality test, which would supposedly tell quite a bit about who I am based on a few hundred questions that I would answer.

“Bring me my tin-foil hat,” I thought, “because I’ve just been accepted into the wacko-brigade.”

Much to my surprise, however, the test was actually pretty accurate.

My Personality in Letters

I was labeled and ENTJ, which is a somewhat rare combination of 4 different letters, each representing a different approach to the world (‘E’ stands for ‘extroverted,’N’ for ‘intuitive,’ ‘T’ for ‘thinking,’ ‘J’ for ‘judging’). The explanation offered of my personality type wasn’t exact, but close enough to make me nod my head while reading it, thinking ‘oh, so that’s why I do that.’

I have to think, though, that many people wouldn’t have that same experience. For one, the number of traits only allows for 16 different personality types, and that isn’t many when you think of the scope and variety of people out there.

Additionally, not everyone answers what they really feel on tests, hoping to come across as the kind of person they’d like to be, manipulating the system, or otherwise panicking themselves into not even knowing how to respond. This can lead to inaccurate labeling.

My Personality in Numbers

But even if the test results may have been questionable, the Meyers-Briggs did give me the open-mind to accept a gift from a client and good friend of mine, Carol Segrave, who wanted me to take something called the Birkman, which was supposedly something like the Meyers-Briggs but much more involved and expensive (when given and interpreted by a professional like Carol, anyway).

I told her I would.

The actual test was remarkably similar to the Meyers-Briggs, at least in the wording of the questions. There were definitely a whole lot more of them, though, and the results were much more extensive. I’m looking at 30+ pages of data on me, and the way the numbers of calculated indicate that rather than shoving people into the category with the closest fit, this test actually gives you numerical stats as an individual, not a ‘type.’

All that being said, I’m not thrilled with all the results.

According to the Birkman, I’m a creative genius who excels in business — woohoo! — who doesn’t really need people and could be perfectly happy living a life in solitude with nothing but his books and a quiet place to read and create. Wooho…oh…wait…what?

Cruelly Calculated Realities

Yup, that’s right, the Birkman was able to see all the hard work I’ve put in over the years, whereas the Meyers-Briggs merely saw who I am now.

Most most people don’t realize about me is that I’m a natural introvert, and that I’ve spent a whole lot of time building myself into the extrovert I am today. Not only that, but I wasn’t even born being into business; it’s something I picked up along the way. I knew that I wanted to be able to make changes in the world and I felt the best way to do so was to hurl myself into a position of influence where I would be respected and have the resources to accomplish what needed doing.

Sure, I have a few traits that have allowed me to thrive in the business world where others might not, but the fact remains that if I hadn’t worked my butt off, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I would probably be where I planned to be at this time in my life back in high school: drawing sketches of passersby for ramen money on the streets of a European city.

Dealing with the Data

Exposing all this did more than allow me to ruminate on what could have been: it also gave me permission to accept the things about myself that have bugged me, and to work harder on the things that I want to improve upon.

For example, it’s not likely that I’ll ever get rid of my need for time alone. It doesn’t often hinder me, and with rare exception of people who I’ve lived with recently, few people will ever see me really needing space.

Having my traits, strengths and weaknesses laid out in front of me in over 30 pages of numbers, charts, and graphs didn’t feel like a Kafakaesque-experience, but rather like a discussion with a trusted friend; the kind who isn’t afraid to flatter or be brutally honest about your faults. And that’s the best kind of friend there is.

Update: November 26, 2016

Huh, I’d forgotten about this test. But wow, it’s actually eerily predictive about what I’ve come to learn about myself these last few years, in terms of needing more time alone, needing to be in my own head, and where the balance-point is between my introverted tendencies and the extroverted additions I’ve made over the years.

Horoscopes are still obvious hooey, and I’m still incredibly skeptical of anything like the Myers-Briggs. But I do think both of these sets of labels can be useful in that they make us take a closer look at ourselves, and allow us to have a starting point from which to start an internal conversation about who we are. “Yes, I’m kind of a Libra, but more like this, and less like this.” “Yes, I’m a bit of an ENTJ, but maybe 50/50 extrovert and introvert. So maybe an ENTJ, cusping on INTJ.”

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I Got Punched in the Face at a Gay Dance Club in Lima

I’m dancing with the girl in yellow, pivoting and swirling, a little surprised that she had returned but resolute that this dance will be better than the last.

She smiles and matches my movements, following more closely than last time, more easily picking up my improvisational dance movements over my more traditional and flawed Latin dance moves from 15 minutes ago.

And then she’s a fist.

Or rather, where she was just a moment ago is a fist. A fist that connects with my right cheek. Boom.

I’m confused for a moment and then I realize that the guy in gray is standing in front of me, ready to hit again, and my gay posse is holding him back, dragging him away from me and from what he clearly wants to do: hit me again and again until I can’t dance with his girl any more.

The Other Club

The night started like any other since I’ve been in Lima. I was sitting at my laptop, desperately trying to find a way out that would circumvent the transportation worker strike that had kept the country in gridlock for the better part of a week.

A new acquaintance who I’d helped set up his WiFi connection the day before comes up to me and introduces himself, first names finally exchanged. He goes upstairs and friends me on Facebook, sending me an instant message and inviting me out with him and his friends to a bar a few blocks away.

My stomach was a little tremulous (as it had been since I arrived in Lima) but I decided to go out, desperate for some excuse to separate myself from the hostel where I’d been cloistered since I arrived many days before.

I put on my leather shoes instead of rocking the flip-flops I’d been sporting since I arrived and it turned out to be a good idea. It was a club, not a bar, and a gay club at that. People were fancy and I’m was feeling not fancy.

But apparently I was looking fancy enough, because the attention was becoming overwhelming.

A lot of people — men and women — started accidentally bumping into me and striking up conversations, or staggering my way with extra drinks they happened to get from the bar.

This wasn’t terribly uncommon at such places, but it was a little strange in the moment. I hadn’t showered that day and was only prepared for a sports bar or something equally low-key.

The Girl in Yellow

But then I noticed a girl. She was wearing a yellow 80’s oversized shirt and shiny black leggings. She was kind of my type. She was dancing seductively.

I took the opportunity to clarify for my compatriots that I wasn’t gay, but that the girl in yellow was the kind of girl I was into if they wanted to be my wingmen.

Chica Amarilla (yellow girl) and I exchanged eye contact a few times from across the club, but that was it. When she walked our way, my new friends made sure to find out what she thought of me.

My new friends declared themselves to be my gay posse, and everything seemed to be going splendidly. She was kinda’ into me, too, and her gay posse seemed to approve as well (very important).

Local Sport

In South America, it would seem, it’s not good to show your hand before you rummy. For me to express too much interest would be a death warrant, and she would be bored before we started.

I rail against this rule and then try to accept it. I went into this night with no expectations…it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I were to ignore this girl and nothing were to happen.

She sways by from time to time, and then my friends tell me that the party is moving to another club. I’m game. I consciously don’t look her way as we leave to see if she notices.

Oh, the games we play. I’m so bad at this.

Knights and Dragons

We walk 4 or 5 blocks across downtown Lima to a place that is even more fabulous than the last. Apparently that other club closes at 3, and this one closes at 5. “What time is it?” I say in Spanish. “Three,” one of my friends replies.

After about 20 minutes at the new club, which is medieval themed, Chica Amarilla shows up with her crew of two guys, the Guy in Grey and another, less description-worthy fellow. Both sit down at the bar and she starts dancing.

I’m noticing her out of the corner of my eye but disciplining myself into not ogling.

I’m dancing with my friends and she wanders over. One after the other they dance with her and I finish my drink as I wait my turn.

I step up to bat and the DJ is playing a distinctly Latin beat. I do okay, but I give myself a 5 out of 10, tops. She clearly ranks me the same and heads back to her crew, scooping up the non-Gray fellow and starting to dance.

I head back to my posse, defeated and let down, sipping more beer as it’s handed to me and dancing up a storm. The music shifts and I’m feeling it. This is a good thing.

She’s watching from across the club and I know it. I’m ignoring her pretty well (my ignoring skills are up to a 7 out of 10 on a good night, after this many months in Argentina). After a little while she comes back over and gestures at me with her finger. “You, over here” it says.

I come over obediently (after a few minutes of dance-foreplay), moving in sync with her rhythm. The floor opens up a bit.

After a few minutes, out of nowhere, a fist claps my right cheek and it’s over. Damnation.

Cultural Differences

My first response after the Guy in Grey hit me in the face was to apologize. I realized what was going on pretty quickly “Oh shit, that’s probably his girlfriend.” My bad. Lo siento. I didn’t realize.

But my friends, after pulling him back from his assault, said that this would be no good. “He’s a local and has the bouncers on his side,” they said. “And he’s just jealous..she did this to you. She told him that you touched her ass or something like that and he hit you.”

I was flummoxed.

“Can you go over there and tell him I didn’t realize she had a boyfriend and that I want to buy him a drink?” I begged one of my compatriots.”It’s just a misunderstanding I’m sure. I hate to feel like I can’t go over to the bar because he’s sitting over there.”

They weren’t having it. He was itching for a fight, they said, and she was itching for attention from her man. It was a setup, this kind of situation. To keep the passion going in a relationship. I had provided the fuel for them, and that was that. Anything else I might do would only make things worse.

They pulled me away to leave and I didn’t look over to the Chica Amarilla or the Guy in Grey. I felt betrayed by both, one for using me to feel loved and the other for ruining my opinion of his city.

Update: November 26, 2016

Yeesh. This was a weird night, but I cringed at the telling of it more than the memory of the night itself.

For a while I was convinced that this was the kind of thing my audience wanted to hear about. These are moments everyone has, and in the ‘writing about travel’ and ‘location independent entrepreneur’ scene, this was the bread-and-butter of what brought people back.

It’s the sort of writing I left behind years ago. Not because there isn’t an audience for it, but because it frankly doesn’t interest or inspire me in any way. Yes, these things happen. But does every moment need to be shared? No. Does it add anything new to the conversation? Sometimes, but rarely. I would argue that this story doesn’t, really. I’ve written other pieces about how dating works in Argentina and other Latin cultures, and those, to me, are more helpful and informative. This alludes to some of those things, but doesn’t include as much context as I would have liked.

But this is why I’m doing these updates; in part to add some commentary from the future, and in part so I can see how I’ve grown, personally, as a writer and as a human being.

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For Real, I’m Going to Die on This Bus

It’s the final day of my 72-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires to Lima, and the seats around me have turned into a strip mall, my fellow passengers into skeptical (but willing) customers.

It all started at the border crossing from Chile into Peru. As soon as we got through customs and back on the bus, the driver stopped to pick up two large, sweaty men wearing elaborate hats who were shouting ‘iPhone! Nokia! Camcorder!’ as they hopped on board.

Since their arrival, they’ve made like magicians, gleefully pulling infinite quantities of shoddily-constructed imitation electronics from their bags, pushing them into the faces of each passenger in turn before moving deeper toward the back of the bus. At the back door, they turn around and repeat their cycle as if they were approaching a completely new batch of fresh, rich, interested customers.

Shoot me now.

I have to admit, what passes for an iPhone down here is kind of fascinating (like a train wreck or a particularly ugly pug). Turning the device over in my hands I can see that it’s about twice as thick and a little bit shorter than a legitimate iPhone, and some of the icons are the same (though most are just words explaining what the button does, or rough images of god-knows-what thrown together in Paintbrush).

What’s really wild is that the bottom opens up to reveal an antenna which can be pulled out, allowing the owner to watch fútbol on their very own portable TV.

This is the future, folks. Steve Jobs, please take note.

A few hours later, the electronics salesmen are let off on the side of the road and a young man with a duffelbag full of plastic-wrapped Nike trainers comes aboard and starts handing out shoes to anyone who will take them. It’s explained to me by a fellow passenger that he’s doing this so that when we encounter police, they won’t know all the shoes belong to him and he won’t be arrested for smuggling.

After Mr. Nike hops off at one of the many tiny towns in the Peruvian desert that leads to Lima, a couple of old ladies climb aboard and start selling Inka Cola, water, breads, and alfajores (it should be noted that unlike Argentine alfajores, which are small treats consisting of two cookies with dulce de leche in between, covered in chocolate, these Peruvian versions are essentially big, sweet tortillas with dulce de leche holding them together; they didn’t look appetizing at all). The ladies walk up and down the aisle, smiling their toothless smiles and calling me rubio (‘blondie’).

The final night is torturous.

Not only am I not feeling very well, but the bus is speeding along at an impressive clip up a large mountain.

The road is a serpentine obstacle course, with periodic boulders blocking the path, requiring the bus to squeeze between it and the cliff face. Looking out the window I can see all the way down the mountain, my view unobstructed by anything so bourgeois as barricades or fences. One wrong move, one accidental flick of the driver’s wrist or popped tire, and there’s nothing between us and a long, slow fall.

It doesn’t help that it’s nearly pitch black outside and the only thing lighting up the night is the sparse cross-traffic and tiny lights of distant towns.

It’s about 4 am, I’m 7 hours from Lima on a freezing cold night in the mountains, and I’m fairly certain I’m going to plunge to my death before I get there.

I hope somebody bought one of those ‘iPhones’ so the survivors can call for help when we reach the bottom.

And until they arrive, we can watch fútbol.

Update: November 26, 2016

A funny thing happens when you’ve been traveling long enough: you come to have so many little stories and memorable moments, that they start to blend together. They don’t disappear, and all the details are still there, in your brain, provided you stopped to note them in the first place. But there are seldom easily identified ‘worst moments’ or ‘most uncomfortable moments’ or even ‘best moments,’ because the moments are so diverse and widespread that it would be difficult to directly compare them.

Revisiting this moment in time, I realize that, when I experience it, I was probably more uncomfortable than I’d ever been in my entire life. This says something about the immense privilege I’ve had, but also something about my priorities and what I value. This was not the last multi-day bus ride I took, and it didn’t even remain the most uncomfortable. But even knowing what I was in for, I continued taking such buses because of what they could offer me: unique experiences with people and in places I wouldn’t see, taking a more well-paved path.

The knowledge acquired on this trip, of what’s available out there beyond the services easily purchased online and the people who have Twitter accounts, immensely informed the decisions I made moving forward.