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.”