Unstick that Label

Confession: I used to be a personality test junkie.

I’ve always been fascinated by personality types. I read my first personality psychology book when I was in middle school. As someone who always felt a little different, I craved the chance to understand myself and the people around me. I knew there was power in knowing my own strengths and weaknesses and how other people perceived me.

In high school, I got sucked into taking online personality tests, ranging from serious to fluffy, but even the light-hearted ones had some legitimate insight. Sometimes the results were so accurate, it was a little eerie. I felt understood. I felt seen.

Over the years, I’ve watched aspects of personality psychology enter the public consciousness—the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Enneagram, the DISC profile. They’ve moved out of the realm of psychological research and into the workplace.

At first, I celebrated the use of these tools. After all, doesn’t society benefit when we better understand ourselves and the people around us? But then I started to notice something—I saw people making assumptions based on results.

“Oh you must hate details,” someone told me. (Not true.)

“So that means you don’t like to talk to people, huh?” someone else remarked. (Not true.)

I reached a point where I stopped sharing my results in professional settings, even if asked, especially since I often found myself in educational programs and workplaces where my personality type was uncommon. Instead of providing insight into my personality, I saw how my results encouraged people to stick a label on me and shove me into a box. A series of letters or colors or numbers allowed other people to skip the work of getting to know me as a complex human being and gave them permission to pretend they already did.

The truth is, personality test results can provide a lot of insight. But there are a lot of things they can’t tell you.

My results can’t tell you that I’m smart and I work hard at everything I do. They can’t tell you that although I’m creative, I’m also remarkably logical and objective. They can’t tell you that I’m comfortable on a stage because I started acting when I was eight or that I have a master’s degree in management. They can’t tell you that I was on the math team in high school (I don’t even like math) or that 90% of the messages written in my high school yearbooks talk about how nice I was. (True story. I just found my yearbooks the other day.)

I am not one set of characteristics. Who I am is both innate and learned. I’ve been shaped by my experiences and my choices, driven by the traits I value. I change, I adapt, I become the person I want to be. I’m the one who decides who I am and who I will be, not a test, and certainly not other people.

So you can keep your labels. They don’t stick to me any more.


Word Nerd Wednesday: Create

Happy Word Nerd Wednesday! The temperature’s climbing outside, but in the museum where this month’s story is set, the air is cool and welcoming.

Sasha is a great admirer of art. She dabbles in painting herself and has great respect for the works of the those who came before her. She regularly wanders through a nearby art museum, appreciating the incredible works featured. But there’s one great artist she admires most of all. She pauses in front of a piece by the great Vincent van Gogh, entranced by his powerful brush strokes and vivid colors.

It destroys Sasha to think van Gogh never had the chance to know the far-reaching impact of his work, how much future generations would admire his art. If only he’d known his own greatness.

“Vin, you’re great,” she murmurs to one of his paintings, even though she’s over a century too late.

“Vin, you’re great” = venerate (VIN-er-ate), which means to regard with reverence, to respect. Van Gogh is now venerated by generations of art lovers, people who are in awe of his incredible talent.

It’s unfortunate that such broad admiration for his art did not come during his lifetime, but that didn’t keep him from creating. Over the course of his life of 37 years, he created over 2,000 works of art.

Praise and respect can provide great encouragement. But the truest artists are those who create because they must, because they are compelled to, because for them, creating is living. And how fortunate for us that van Gogh didn’t let a lack of veneration during his lifetime prevent him from creating the art millions now admire.


Word Nerd Wednesday: The Art of the Fix

Happy Word Nerd Wednesday! This month’s word story is about a lovely person named Sylvia.

Sylvia, Siv to her friends, is an easy-going woman, friendly and enjoyable to be around. She’s at a party with her friends when she sees a lady whose dress tag is flipped out, sticking out along the back of her neckline. Casually strolling over to her, Siv introduces herself and offers the lady a hug. She quietly tells her the tag is sticking out and tucks it back in for her before releasing the other woman from the hug.

Two of Siv’s friends watch the exchange, smiling at her considerate, discreet style. “So un-obvious,” says one of them. “So true to Siv.”

“Un-obvious, true to Siv” = unobtrusive (un-ub-TRU-siv), meaning inconspicuous or discreet. By quietly and covertly fixing the problem, Siv behaves unobtrusively, sparing the other woman embarrassment.

It’s a wonderful thing when one person helps another without calling attention to the problem. It’s especially beautiful to see two women helping each other in a world that loves pitting one woman against another and obsessing over any fashion misstep.

Siv doesn’t have to help the other woman in our story. After all, she doesn’t even know her. But when she sees another woman in need of help, she acts—artfully, discreetly, in a way that uplifts the other woman instead of pushing her down.

She’s a rare jewel, that Siv, and even though she’s fictional, she inspires me—to be bolder, to step up when I see a need, and most of all, to be ready to act as the discreet, problem-solving friend every person needs at some point in their lives.


Leave Me by the Sea

(I’m making the executive decision to push Word Nerd Wednesday to next week in favor of sharing pics from my vacation last week.)

I love the beach. I don’t just mean, “Why yes, it is a rather lovely vacation spot.” I mean I love the beach. I’ve been told by the human who knows me best that no one loves the beach as much as I do. Which is both happy and sad. (Happy: I win! Sad: what is wrong with everyone else??)

Once a year, my human and I try to spend some time at the beach so that my soul doesn’t shrivel and die. (You think I’m being dramatic. I am not.) I have to see it. At least once a year, I have to see it, and the moment we arrive, I fly out of the car and down to the water to say hello. Everything else can wait.

The waves beckon.

There’s simply no place on earth where I am more at home than on a North Carolina beach. With my feet in the water, staring out at the ever-shifting waves, I feel like I can fully breathe, like every inch of me is at complete peace, resonating perfectly with the rhythm of the waves.

I love how much the water changes, from blue to green to gray, the way the fading sunlight stains the breaking edges pink. It’s never the same, from one day to the next, from one second to the next.

My happy place.

And on most NC beaches, you get the bonus of lovely views west across the sounds or waterways, including gorgeous sunsets.

The sun fading in a blaze of fire.

Even my hair is happier at the beach. Who cares if it’s tangled, it smells like the salt air.

Happy lady, happy day, happy hair.

And just when I think the ocean couldn’t get more beautiful, a storm rolls in, providing the most dramatic views.

The beautiful stormy ocean.

We were even gifted with a late night storm, lightning streaking across the water, brilliant flashes against inky darkness. Whether it’s sunny or stormy or cloudy, the ocean never fails to be beautiful and dynamic.

No matter what happens in my life—the good, the bad, everything in-between—I always know I’ll find my peace by the ocean.

When I am gone,
and am no more,
rest me here
upon this shore.

Release me
unto the sea,
and know I’ll be
forever free.