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Posted by on Apr 13, 2010

A “Little Personality Test”

Last night I attended a pre-college seminar at my daughter’s high school, where a counselor described to a large group of overexcited, vicariously ambitious and excessively stressed parents some standardized tests of knowledge and reasoning skills to help their (also stressed) children get into college.

There was a detailed presentation on the key test components, and then, almost as an afterthought, the counselor mentioned “there’s a little personality test in here, too.”

Later in the session, she again mentioned the little personality test, and then used the word “little” once more.

It is possible she meant the test was brief or short, but judging from her voice inflection, which sounded dismissive or condescending, I think she meant “little” as “insignificant,” or “nice to know but don’t need to know.”

There is a lot of debate now on how relevant high schools are. From abysmal graduation rates to the question of how well high schools are preparing children for the competitive, economic and social reality of today (versus one that existed 50 years ago), there is a sense that something is wrong. Bill Gates is now the chief advocate of reform in schools.

To connect the dots, I’d like to suggest that knowing one’s self (of which the personality is but one part) in order to find one’s place and succeed in the world today is more than a “little” matter.

For sure, the kids need to know science and engineering, particularly if they’re going to be scientists or engineers. But the research now is consistently showing that emotional intelligence is a much larger predictor of success in work and life than just specialist knowledge. It’s not an either/or, but a both/and.

But don’t call the self-awareness piece “little.”

I have now met thousands of people unhappy in their jobs who were unable to connect their lack of knowledge of who they really were and what they really wanted with the unfortunate outcomes they got. Feeling like they had to fit in to someone else’s mold, or feeling like distinctive or unique parts of themselves were to be covered up, or simply not knowing what made them happy had led them to some real regrets, particularly at midlife.

There are many tests you can take to help piece together the puzzle — unprecedented in human history, and never to be repeated — call “you.” The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator, the Strong Interest Inventory, FIRO-B, Disc, the Strengths Finder Assessment and others can all help you understand yourself better.

Just don’t call this knowledge or matter “little.”

3 Comments

  1. Unfortunately, public high schools promote a stereotypical view of personality tests whereby they are on the same relevancy plane as astrology/astrological signs. It is not taken seriously as a method of self-discovery, though who knows whether a simple, couple question “personality test” (which might’ve been what the lady meant by “little”) could ultimately illuminate anything for a teenager. For example, the internet is filled with “personality tests” which can hardly be compared to MBTI, FIRO-B, etc. If only high schools provided their students more methods of self-discovery such as these…we would all be better off!

    • Crystal, thanks for your thoughtful and insightful response.

      It is ironic that institutions dedicated to learning overlook the opportunities for learning not just about things in the extraverted world (other people, places, things), but also in the introverted world (self-concept, identity, preferences, thinking styles).

      It goes beyond ironic into tragic, though, when people learn much later in life that how they interpreted experience and processed formative events turned out to serve them not so well. Instruments to help discover the self can sometimes help here.

      An identity can be formed around impressions of who one is, and the individual comes to accept this as an immutable truth. It can even become an excuse. (“That’s just who I am.”) In coaching, we call this “the story.” The story really runs the show in life, and as long as it works, then there is really no issue.

      But very often, people take stock and reassess themselves at mid-life, and let go of anything from self-limiting beliefs to false identities formed to cope with the demands of the world. This is discovery of the core self, beyond personality, projections, ego and other artifices.

      Instruments such as the MBTI can help people really discover essential truths about themselves. For example, if you prefer intuition to sensing, you don’t have to feel like you’re bad or wrong if you happen to be surrounded by sensors. A perceiver who prefers spontaneity and informality may feel like a second-class citizen in the presence of people – especially authority figures – who want a plan for everything and formality. (It can work the other way, too.)

      Instruments like MBTI are always just a starting point for greater self-discovery, but they give the individual more of a shot at discovering what’s real than just raw experience – right when there is limited capacity at this age to understand the true meaning of it in relation to the self.

      Age can teach us a lot, but there’s a lot to like in coupling that with increased self-awareness at a younger are, courtesy of good, powerful instruments (not popular magazine questionnaires that are mainly entertainment).

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