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.