Clerk of Course, or What I Learned in Type Development
One dismaying fact — and I would argue a growing trend with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator — is the series of misconceptions that regularly arise in its interpretation. This is mainly due to increasingly compressed timeframes in which the theory is taught.
I would like to do my part to lay to rest one of the myths, and I want to do that with a story, in order to help others understand what the MBTI really is.
You have probably heard someone complain that the MBTI “puts people in boxes.” The hypothesis of a preference is somehow seen as tagging someone with a label from which he or she cannot escape.
I know I’d be unhappy if that were the case, but it’s not. Type simply describes preferences we bring to life, work, relationships and situations. In fact, we have to use all the functions every day in order to survive, but some we prefer to others.
Type describes where you start, but it says nothing about where you wind up. In fact, one of the most important concepts in Type – Type development – is all about how you develop the less-preferred parts of the personality in order to be more well-rounded, adaptive and, as Carl Jung said, “individuated.”
I have always believed it is healthy to engage in activity that is the opposite of preference – that it is a good idea for introverts to work on speaking up more, for extraverts to take a little more time before speaking, and so on.
In my own Type – ENTP – I have a very clear preference for Intuition over Sensing. Intuition is about the big picture, patterns, concepts, themes and the future. Sensing is about the details, specifics, concrete facts, the knowable and more the immediate reality.
And now to the story.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, or if it involved some arm twisting, cold beers, volunteer guilting or — in the way so many volunteer jobs work — a profound lack of understanding of what I was getting into, but I wound up in a role as something called “Clerk of Course” for my daughter’s summer swim team. Clerk of Course may sound like an official, even bureaucratic function involving a sharpened pencil and perhaps a banker’s lamp, but it’s not.
No, Clerk of Course is physically located right in the middle of the central nervous system of a meet. It includes mayhem, stress, elevated pulse rates and a never-ending fear of jacking up and delaying the running of a meet, at which point hundreds of over-ambitious, time-starved parents can hate you, let alone the swimmers who are inconvenienced.
The job of Clerk of Course each Saturday morning during the season is to get 272 excited swimmers to the right lane, at the right time, for the right race. Some of these swimmers are 8 years old and younger, meaning they suddenly realize they need to go to the bathroom right before a race, and want you to tell them it’s OK to do so.
If you think that’s bad, try corralling the 15-18 age group, the chief goal of which seems to be strutting, preening and occasional chest-beating (the boys) and quietly talking about each other and relationships (the girls). Both genders are more interested in what is on their iPods than anything an old guy wants to tell them about getting lined up. They have far more important things on their minds that actually checking in at the Clerk of Course, which is required under Northern Virginia Swim League rules, people. Please.
But one error, and the wrath of the NVSL (and remember, the parents) can befall the Clerk of Course, hence the stress mentioned above.
Now, all of my dear and wonderful colleagues will readily tell you that attention to details is not exactly my strong suit. They would probably tell you this while rolling their eyes, and they would probably say it in a more colorful and extreme fashion than I just wrote. There’s a good reason for this. For those of you who have studied Type, it is my Inferior Function, meaning it comes last in my own batting order for dealing with the world of Intuition, Thinking, Feeling, and then, dead last, Sensing.
But here’s the real point: I knew the volunteer job would require me to develop my own Sensing and attention to details, and that’s actually why I took it. I knew it would stretch me.
And, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.
Each Saturday during the swim season, I had to completely focus attention on each of those 272 names, making sure the right person got to the right lane, etc. An earthquake could have taken place, a helicopter could have made an emergency landing in the pool, the Obama motorcade could have driven by and I would have never noticed. Total focus.
After the initial panic and sense of being overwhelmed, which went on for 4 or 5 years, I actually started to get into the rhythm of the job, finding the best ways to make sure everything worked. In fact, I began to take pride in the mastery of the details, and the running of an error-free meet. After some time, it became clear to me it was like a ballet and a mosh pit, a seamless and rhythmic orchestrating of unruly, youthful crowds. It was a beautiful thing when each race ended and the next race was ready to take off. The time-challenged parents loved that.
Before all this took place, in the early morning when the pool was just starting to awaken, I would go to the staging area and clean it up, arrange the benches, make sure the ground was clear of any objects. It was a quiet, introverted devotion to details. To be honest, it was kind of a reverence, a caring about the details.
Type describes where you start, but not where you wind up. I may still struggle with some details at work, but doing this activity increased my confidence that I can flex to sensing when needed.
I did the gig for eight years, and with a daughter going to college now, it’s over. More than 10,000 swimmers later, my work there is done, and I will miss it terribly. It was a great opportunity, a lot of fun in between the moments of sheer terror, and I hope a service to all those wonderful kids.
You never know what Type development opportunities might open up for you.