Choosing my own Choices: A Myers Briggs Revelation

Several months ago, I took a BuzzFeed quiz that associated my Myers Briggs personality type with a wild animal. Thrilled with my results (I can't quite recall them at the moment, but I did discover I have the same personality type as Oprah, which is all I needed to know), I posted the results and the quiz to my darling boyfriend Ben's Facebook timeline. When he took the quiz himself and found out his personality type meant he was, for all intents and purposes, a Meerkat, it was a full-on Myers Briggs tornado from there: "A MEERKAT???" he exclaimed. "How could I possibly be a MEERKAT???"

Like Ben often does, he decided to take his research to the next level at the realization that his personality may, actually, cause him to be a Meerkat equivalent (clearly he wasn't thrilled about the whole Meerkat thing, but for the record, I think Meerkats are cute. Just saying.) Ben's exploration of himself through the lens of the Myers Briggs has since turned him into an expert on what it means to be an introvert versus an extrovert, and on how being "perceiving" can give someone an entirely different perspective than the one they would have if they were "judging". I must admit, I've absorbed some of Ben's new found library of info along the way, and discovered some pretty interesting things myself.

One thing I stumbled across recently was a book he purchased that dissects each element of one's Myers Briggs personality type and breaks it down so you feel like you're practically reading your own personalized star chart. I cracked it open a couple of weeks ago and read a few pages on my personality type, ENFJ. I came across some startling finds, one of which has stuck with me and I couldn't help but share it.

As an ENFJ, which, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the test, means I'm an "Extrovert/Intuitive/Feeler/Judging", I tend to be very outgoing and wired for interpersonal communication, as well as a skilled communicator with large audiences. None of this comes as a surprise to me - I was born putting on shows in my living room for my parents and later majored in Broadcast Journalism in college, hanging photos of Oprah on my dorm room wall while everyone else taped up posters of Drake. I wasn't shocked to read that I thrive in large crowds or that I'm very perceptive of the needs and feelings of others, but I was quite surprised to discover that one thing that gets in my way almost daily was actually PART of my personality type: I give an unwarranted amount of weight to other people's opinions and other people's choices when it comes to making my own.

My favorite spot: being on camera. Typical for an ENFJ, apparently.

As I read this excerpt of the breakdown of my ENFJ personality type, it was as though a missing ingredient in how I come to understand myself was finally revealed. I've spent most of my waking life taking vigilant notes on how others make decisions, when and how they choose to act, and what patterns manifest in their lives as a basis for my own decisions for as long as I can remember. Could it really just be a part of my personality? Might I not have actually missed some kind of memorandum on how to progress through life but am rather simply wired to assume my instincts are off and that other people have some kind of better grip on life than I do?

Listen, I've done a whole lot of "work" in my day to get a better understanding of how to go with my gut and what my gut is actually saying to me in the first place, but there is nothing that has ever stopped me from taking the means and medians of my friends decisions and factoring them against my own instincts. In retrospect, I can say I always end up doing what I wanted to do in the first place, but not without some serious dedication to making myself utterly miserable first by asking each and every person I know what they did in the same situation (and surveying those I don't know very well via Facebook...great tool for the neurotic...) 'Was all this misery really necessary?' I thought to myself after having this realization. Did I need to keep playing the "compare and despair" game after realizing I just might have a natural tendency to do so as part of my personality type, do I not need to take my comparisons so seriously?

Let me tell you, this revelation has made all sorts of waves in my life since I came across it. Not that I don't still continually seek guidance from others, because I do, but I'm starting to know the difference between asking for guidance and coming to someone with my tail between my legs, assuming that I know far less than they do and they can give me the proper rules and regulations for how to live my life. I can't say I've stopped trying to navigate the road ahead using some kind of designated timeline based on all the data I get from my Facebook newsfeed, but I can see it for what it is now: something I do by default, NOT a compass by which to live my life.

The truth is, as someone who often desperately wants someone else to tell her what to do, when to act, and what kind of decision to make, I've noticed something: we are all making a LOT of different decisions. No matter what it is I'm deciding, I can find a ton of people who did something totally different, and a few who did it the way I really want to. There is ALWAYS going to be someone out there who doesn't get it, who doesn't get me, who thinks I'm nuts, and I'm probably going to think that about a few people too. That's life, isn't it? We aren't meant to understand everyone, nor to have everyone understand us, but we ARE meant to understand ourselves, giving ourselves that love and approval and knowing we are okay with our own decisions. That's what really counts in the end.

Much easier said than done though, right? I have a friend I hadn't spoken to in several years come back into my life about a year ago, and I now often have her voice in my head when it comes to making major choices. The truth is, we are very different people, which is probably why we were living very separate lives and out of touch for so long. We reconnected because we're very important to each other, but it's important not to make that a reason to believe she knows where to find the keys to my destiny, or which direction to turn them in order to get to the other side of the door. Everyone - even those we love so much - is on a different journey. Our only job is to make sure ours stands out in the way we want it to, to make sure it represents who we are, not who anyone else is.

It's scary, terrifying rather, to not have anyone who has lived my life exactly, no one who knows what is coming next and can tell me how to navigate the road from where I'm standing. People will give me guidance based on their experiences, complete with their wounds and triumphs, but it is up to me to discern what is of value and what is clearly based on someone else's past experiences.

I've spent a long time, too long even with my short life thus far, putting on other people's glasses and seeing my life through whatever fog, or "shmutz" as we say in Yiddish, is on their glasses. The truth is though, we can't live in such protection of ourselves or we'll never feel the good stuff.

Everyone is going to doing everything a little bit differently. Like I and a few people I know like to say, I get to "take what I like and leave the rest." There is no blueprint, just some open terrain and a bunch of pretty beautiful options if you (don't) think about it (too much.)



Laura Max

(Author's note: Ben is happy to report that after taking the BuzzFeed quiz several months ago, he has since discovered he was not actually a Meerkat (INFP), and that he has more extroverted tendencies than he originally recognized when taking the quiz. Thank goodness for all involved.)