Before my summer holidays I took two personality tests. Here’s why I did it and what I learnt from the experience.
After a long summer break, a mix of medical leave and annual holidays, it’s good to be back in Tokyo and back at work. Or at least, something that feels like work.
The first week back always feels slow. Partly it’s the whole post-holiday thing, the feeling of being in slow motion, trying to catch up with a working world spinning away from you at an insane pace. It’s also because of the rebooting process, getting all the batteries charged, software updated, guitars restrung, inboxes cleared and the little business details up to date.
And of course, there’s getting house and home back together, restocking the pantry, bringing the herb garden back to life, and most important of all, helping my daughter start another year of school.
Learning The Holiday Lessons
But this year, the August routine feels slower than normal because I’m trying to put into practice some things I learnt over the summer. Mid year breaks are a great chance to reset the year, to stop and ask what’s working and what isn’t. I always approach summer holidays this way. My hope is always to come back in August energised, with a good perspective on life.
This year I pushed this a little harder by taking two personality tests. After last year, it was clear I needed to continue doing some more personal work, digging a little deeper into how the experiences of the last few years had changed me.
Why Take A Personality Test (Or Two)
When I discussed this with some people, a few questioned why I felt the need to do this. Surely someone my age should just “know themselves.” Perhaps. Most of us acquire a sense of identity when we are younger, then seldom reevaluate that, even as life puts us through many situations that can change us.
Plus, there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest we might not be as good at understanding our motivations, or the way our beliefs connect with our actions. It could be that we are no better at understanding our own thoughts than we are at understanding the inner workings of other people’s minds.
Given these two possibilities, that our self-understanding might be out of date, and that we might not know ourselves as well as we think, it makes sense to seek an evidence-based approach to self-understanding.
Myers-Briggs And 16 Personalities
The most well known of the two tests I took was based on the Myers-Briggs personality-type model, a well known and popular personality test, loosely based on the work of Carl Jung. There’s a few different sites that allow you to take a free Myers-Briggs style test (or MBTI for short). I choose 16 Personalities, partly because the site seemed to be well written, but mostly because my daughter had recently done the same test at school and I wanted to compare our results on the same platform.
The MBTI tests I took during my 20s, along with some coaching and counselling and that played a big role in shaping my sense of self at the time. Back then my type was INTP, with a strong emphasis on introversion and logical thinking. Myers-Briggs models often try to correlate personality to ideal jobs and my type then suggested someone suited to being an architect or scientist. It also suggested someone who was prone to leaving things to the last minute, while he studied and logically thought through every possible option, alone, in silence.
But, this time round, my scores were different and the test suggested I was now an INFP, with an emphasis on being imaginative, open-minded, and emotionally expressive. It’s a personality type suited to writing, freelancing, counselling, or even academia. It also suggested someone who wasn’t so much of a loner, or logical thinker, but someone more poetic, considerate and expressive.
This stopped me in my tracks, not because it felt wrong, in fact it felt right, but because I had to wonder for how long I’ve laboured under an outdated sense of self. How many problems and relationships had I worked on from a self-understanding that didn’t really match up with who I am today?
While this realisation made me start to re-evaluate who I was the next test made me question even more deeply the way I approach just about every aspect of my life.
My Date With Steve
The other test was a more substantial affair. A few months back I heard Steve Sisler being interviewed on The Unmistakable Creative Podcast. Steve took the host, Srini Rao, through a version of his personality assessment live on the show. It was remarkable listening and I knew this approach, with a test I had never done before would be the perfect way to dive deeper into the questions the latest MBTI had left me with.
So, I contacted Steve and signed up to do his tests, together with an hour long feedback session. It wasn’t cheap, but the value here wasn’t just doing the test, but talking through it with an experienced coach and seeing how to apply the insights to my life and work.
The test confirmed a lot of things I knew about myself. I was a perfectionist, self-critical, persistent, motivated by a sense of mission, empathetic, able to clarify complex issues, keen to negotiate rather than demand cooperation, and repelled by reactive, loud or aggressive behaviour.
As I shared the experience with the people closest to me the replies were always the same, the test was a very true picture of who I was and if anything, it was pointing out my blindspots, the strengths that others saw in me, even when I doubted them myself. For years I’ve struggled with feelings of not being selfless and compassionate enough, but the people around me seem to see those qualities all the time, and the test backed that up.
Perhaps the biggest insight was the way the results summarised my motivations. The model Steve uses maps out our motivations, the things that draw attention in the world, into seven categories (aesthetic, economic, individualistic, political, altruistic, regulatory, and theoretical). Apparently most people sit within the statistical average (plus or minus one standard deviation) for most categories, then have a few where they are outside the norm, showing their unique tendencies. But, I was way outside the averages on all of them, something Steve said was so rare, he hadn’t seen it in many years.
I’ve often felt like I don’t see the world the same as most people around me, but here was empirical proof! Steve said this was the profile of someone who was “off the charts creative and insightful” which is just about the nicest compliment anyone could pay me. But, I instantly started to wonder about the way I’ve tried to present myself over the years, all the attempts to fit in, to downplay my distinctiveness, to write and create from a “shared” point of view.
Time to let go of that.
Why Do This?
After doing these tests and spending my holidays reflecting on them, it was clear there was at least three good reasons for going through the experience.
First, it’s a chance to update and upgrade your self-awareness. Having a good self-image isn’t just some exercise in narcissism, it’s about strengthening one of your most important tools for navigating life, especially when facing challenges and disappointments.
Second, it’s a great way to fill your vocabulary for self-description. Like most creatives, I really struggle to write bios and fill out profiles. These tests are like a copywriting gift, full of the right kinds of words we can use to explain who we are and what motivates us!
Finally, any good personality test will remind you what your strengths are, which is of course, where you should be focussing a lot (probably most) of your attention.
Ultimately we have to ask ourselves, do we want to carry on with a possibly outdated, probably inaccurate perception of who we are, or do we want to face the evidence, be willing to accept some short term discomfort, in order to have a clearer picture of our strengths and how we can do well in our lives.