Myers-Briggs and Me

A friend asked me this weekend about my personality type as defined by the Myers-Briggs framework.  I retook the test, but then I also looked back at my results from the same test about 6 months ago.  Somehow, I’m not surprised I got pretty different results.

When I took the Myers-Briggs 6 months or so ago, I was an ENFJ.  This weekend, I scored ESTJ.

I took the test here if you’re curious.

The website goes into depth on each of the personality types and some of what the various combinations represent.  I think, generally, I fall somewhere between the ENFJ and ESTJ types.  What I find to be particularly amusing in the entire analysis of it, though, is that both peg me as being Extroverted rather than Introverted, and both peg me as being Judging rather than Perceiving — and I’m not sure I agree with either in its entirety!

Extroversion and introversion are always an interesting tangle.  Most commonly, they get explained as “do you get energy from people, or from being on your own?”  But the problem is that I think such a distinction doesn’t work for me.  Because whether I’m action or thinking oriented, whether I look for more interaction or less, and what exhausts me more — all these things are dependent on everything else.  Sometimes I call myself an “outgoing introvert.”

For me, it all depends on the day, the people, and how my brain chemistry has decided to line up.  I spent a large portion of this past weekend in crowds of people and felt more energized than ever — but those crowds were my two most comfortable communities: the Twin Cities Women’s Choir and the convention committee for CONvergence.  Sure, I was in a room with 100 people, and I had to be social, and I needed to be on my game, alert and quick and chatty and entertaining.  But I was with people where all of that comes more easily to me than, say,  a group at a ballgame or in the store.  The TCWC women have been my sisters and aunts and cousins for 11+ years.  They know me, and it’s fine for me to be myself, just as I am, around them.  I’ve known the CVG crew for less time, but, if anything, they are even MORE welcoming of me and who I am and how that presents today.

Contrast that with my usual circumstances at work, where I can go a whole day and sometimes a week without interacting face-to-face with a single coworker, in spite of sitting in the middle of a “cube farm” as it were.  I answer emails and IMs, and the few-and-far-between phone calls, but for the most part I find those weeks without people more restful and easier to handle.  The days when I don’t have to chat with people, or stand up in front of a room to give a presentation or training session, are the days I’m the most productive, the most relaxed, and come home feeling the most refreshed.

One hour-long meeting at work might be all the social interaction I would want in a day, but I can easily spend 3-4 days with the TCWC or CVG and never feel the fatigue of introversion.  So the “E” of the Myers-Briggs only works, I think, when I’m within a group where I already feel safe.  When I’m an outsider, though, or when I’m still finding my way, then I would challenge that “E” more strongly.

I’m probably not a genuine extrovert all of the time, or even most of it, but when I have room to be myself, then I take that room and enjoy it.

Similarly, the judging/perceiving divide doesn’t QUITE work for me.  It’s not quite as neat a divide to explain, but it seems to come down to “are you more likely to organize and follow a clear plan, or let the world give you some ideas and improvise along the way?”  And, once again, in a lot of ways I find myself to be both.

I am, generally, an organized person.  If someone asks me to make a plan, or figure out how to get XYZ things done, or set up a schedule with lots of conflicting information, I can usually breeze through it, produce something straightforward and logical, and enumerate the exact sequence of events or precise steps from start to finish.  I have the capacity to orient the world in my head and snap it into order, whether I’m doing it with my spreadsheets and plot structures or the exact to-do list before a road-trip.

But, honestly, a lot of that isn’t because I need it for myself — it’s more a result of everything else.  Living with Sarah, it helps us both for me to be able to make clear and concise plans she can use.  At work, I’m a data analyst, so my brain naturally whirls through numbers and patterns to create trends and graphs and correlations and conclusions.  I don’t know that I necessarily see the world in concretes, nor that I even need to perceive it that way.  But that’s the path of least resistance because that’s how I tend to keep life moving forward.

When it’s just me, living inside my head, I don’t think I bother with so much organization and structure and order.  I don’t typically make plans unless plans are necessary by some outside force, and I know things will get done in their own time.  I don’t bother to pin down the 15 different scenarios for every outcome of every branch of what I might do — I just go on my merry way and adjust my steps when the path changes or a rock creeps up.  Also, the “P” type tends to attract the non-conformists and I am ABSOLUTELY a non-conformist.  I’m the person who wanders around in ratty sweatpants in the nicest stores in the richest suburb because I CAN and I find it funny when people blink at me, as if somehow I’m “doing it wrong” by existing without being perfectly put together.

I do tend to interact with the world on the “J” side of the divide, but I think, if there were no world and just me, I’d stick to the “P.”  But, part of that is that I don’t need the plans of a “J” for myself because I know even if I stumble, I’ll catch myself and keep on walking.  But I plan, because I’m trying to make the path easier for anybody else walking with me.

So…I’m not sure I’m a good candidate for Myers-Briggs.  And all this is before you get into the nuances of trying to do personality testing in a constantly-fluctuating brain with bipolar tendencies.  It’s like trying to thread the needle of a sewing machine while it’s running.  You might hit it at just the right moment, but for the most part, you’re going to miss.

I understand why these types are helpful, both for people who want to learn about themselves and to help others understand one another.  I just don’t think they help ME very much.

But then, it’s just one more box, one more set of expectations, one more world of nice clean lines for me to willfully and cheerfully ignore when it suits me.  One more way to defy the mores of conventional understanding.

Because it’s fun.

And anything worth doing or being is worth doing and being yourself, for yourself.

Even when that makes me personality type ???? and sometimes !!!!

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One thought on “Myers-Briggs and Me

  1. Slowly catching up on reading here…That’s an interesting type and not what I would have pegged you as, particularly the extroversion as you say.

    I am an INFJ. Very VERY INFJ. I’ve never scored as even close to anything else on the MBTI, and never found any description of that type that didn’t ring incredibly true for me. So, read up on that if you ever want to understand me better. 😀

    (Also, if you were curious, Eric is a very strongly expressed ENFP and identifies with that label a lot.)

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