16 Personalities

On the bus home from our last Archeology field trip- Galway, Burren and the Aran Islands- I remembered to ask one of my favorite questions to my new friends: what are your personality letters? As usual, most people don’t know, and as usual, I insist everyone in my vicinity take the quiz (16personalities.com) and let me know their type so I can note it in their contact on my phone. It is a tool I adopted knowing my own desire for boxes and explanations; reading about someone’s type helps me understand the way they think and, I believe, be a better, more empathetic friend.

Cam and Lizzy are INFPs (same as my bff @Audrey), Megan shares my ESTJ, Grace is an ISTJ and Meghan is an ENFP. All three of my roommates here (Tara, Vanessa, and Emma) are ESFJs. The usual discussion ensued as people read through the descriptions and either found them scarily accurate or only moderately true. What was interesting was the amount of overlap among our letters. With 16 possible combinations, you would think it would be rare to have 2, 2, and 3 of the same in a group of 9. Tara brought up an interesting point: how similar ARE her, Emma, and Vanessa? Or Cam and Lizzy? Or me and Megan? How much do our letters describe who we are?

A relatively common personality type (hi Lauren, this is your type too!), ESFJs are popular, caring, easy to get along with, and sensitive. Emma, Vanessa, and Tara all fit this bill. But in many ways, they are vastly different. Emma has a quieter side; she loves a good book. She has a competitive streak. Vanessa shares my love for scary movies and is always up to try new foods. She is extremely flexible and can go with the flow. Tara is the life of the party, much more talkative than the formers. She is the best shopper I’ve met. Sure, they have a lot in common, but I wouldn’t peg them as the same.

I have been addicted to the Meyers Briggs personality letters since I first read my own ESTJ description a few years ago. I was shocked at the way it seemed explain everything about myself in eloquent, simple language. ESTJs are “valued for their clear advice and guidance, and they happily lead the way on difficult paths;” “they stick to their principles and push an unclouded vision of what is and is not acceptable.” They are dedicated, strong-willed, honest, and excellent organizers, but are also prone to being judgemental, inflexible, and uptight. Those words gave me a perfect little box to place myself in. I was an ESTJ.

In high school, I would have said I embodied nearly every inch of my characterized “executive” personality. But as I’ve grown up, I’ve become much more daring. I can see grey in the world. I don’t tend to follow rules I don’t agree with. I love some spontaneity and adventure. In others words, I’ve become a bit less ESTJ. My rigid box is more of a general outline; I still feel strongly about my described letters, but I am looser in the interpretation.

I think Myers Briggs is a baseline. It is our most natural state. It is our tendency, without outside influences. The Paulina still largely unexposed to the world truly stuck in those letters, but the Paulina with some life experience looks different. And since my life experience is different than any other ESTJ- we form in unique ways. We take different paths, even if our default, untouched state is the same.

I made a conscious decision (after lots of learning and guidance) to be less inflexible. I decided I didn’t want to be so rigid. In the wise words of Mary Oliver, “I [didn’t] want to end up simply having visited this world.” My experiences and effort made me better at the things I am not “built” good at, like a lack of structure or alone time. Yes, I am an ESTJ. Reading any description of an ESTJ will tell you a lot about me, but it won’t explain everything. I have some control over my traits and because of that, I can be progressive and emotional. I can break rules and abandon projects. I am capable of growth.

Tara, Emma, and Vanessa all live different lives with different families and friends. As do Megan and I, and Cam and Lizzy. Though things would be easier if knowing 4 letters meant you could predict a person’s every decision or thought-process, it would also make humankind a lot less colorful. Only 16 different people roaming the world? Innovation would plummet. Creativity would cease to exist. It is not a reality I would wish for.

Yes, I will still ask about those 4 letters- they are a fascinating peek into the way our minds work- though, I remind my black and white inclination, it is important to ask a lot more.*

*I suppose I will never escape cheesy HC slogans!

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