Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Uncategorical Splendor

I'm obsessed with personality assessments, or what I lovingly call Sassy Quizzes.  Sassy was a 1990s-era magazine published for the type of teenage girls who were sick of Seventeen. Not girls who were searching for the trendiest prom dress, but girls who were searching for their identity. Not girls who had questions about how to properly apply false eyelashes, but girls who had questions about the meaning of life. And wanted to ask Evan Dando, who Sassy Girls might argue is the meaning of life.

I turned 20 in 1990, so technically I was too old for Sassy. I would have been too embarrassed to buy a copy from the local bookstore myself. Fortunately, I worked in the Periodicals department of our public library at the time, so I could read Sassy whenever I wanted (during breaks of course, if you are my manager who is reading this post.)

I once joked with my old boss that part of the interview process should be taking a Sassy Quiz. If I'm going to be working with this person forty-hours a week, I need to know who they really are, not just who they lie about being on their resume. I could think of no better way to figure out what kind of person I'm dealing with than to administer a Sassy Quiz. Somehow my boss didn't understand the validity of my argument. She had been pretty and popular during high school, no doubt.

Today's BuzzFeed Quizzes are similar to good ole Sassy Quizzes. Silly, and yet insightful. A good way to get you thinking about both the meaning of life and the absurdity of life. A fun way to get to know yourself and to know you're not alone in your weirdness. Pretty soon I expect to see a BuzzFeed Quiz called "Are You Addicted to BuzzFeed Quizzes?" and I already know what my answer is going to be:

Yes! You are most definitely addicted to BuzzFeed Quizzes. You rock!

Because that's how all BuzzFeed Quizzes end, whether the answer is yes, no, or maybe: You rock!

Isn't that what all personality assessments do: validate our existence? You are weird and wonderful! You are important.

My workplace human resources team likes to administer lots of personality assessments. I've taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator at least twice at work during training sessions, and a handful of other times when I was at home on my computer having a discussion via social media with friends about personality types, just to double-check. My first result was ENFP, but my "E" and "I" were so close the instructor told me I was really an XNFP. All the other times I've taken it, my result was INFP. "E" stands for extrovert. "I" stands for introvert.  "X" stands for ambivert, or, a mixture of both "E" and "I". Don't ask me why "A" doesn't stand for ambivert because I don't know, and I don't care. I'm down with ambiguity. Which I guess makes it likely that I am an XNFP.

Makes sense. I'm in the middle. At 43, I'm middle-aged. I live in the Mid-west. I'm middle-class. I'm attracted to both men and women, so I'm bisexual. I play basketball left-handed but I write right-handed, so I'm ambidexterous. I was able to have one child with the help of a fertility specialist, but I've been unable to have more children, so I'm subfertile. In my daily life I eat little meat, but sometimes I eat chicken and fish, and occasionally ham, so I'm a flexitarian. I go to church, but I don't believe in Hell, so I'm a Presbyterian. My blog's called This Ambiguous Life, for godsakes! I seem most suited to the grey areas of life with no easy answers.

And yet, I'm obsessed with self-assessment. You'd think pegging myself wouldn't interest me, but instead, I'm compelled to slap labels on myself. Am I an ambivert? Or simply a gregarious introvert? Or perhaps an insecure extrovert?

Yes. Yes. And yes.

I love surrounding myself with people, but after too long my energy gets drained and I must return to my cocoon of social-deprivation. I love to share my life, but generally only in writing, when I'm more in control and I have time to figure out what I want to say. In person, I can come off as awkward or reserved, especially if I'm sober, which, unfortunately, due to my desire to live a long life, is most of the time.

I don't talk much. Unless I know you well, or it's a topic I'm fascinated with, or I'm drunk at a party in my own home. Then I'll talk your ear off. Or if I'm using social media. Then I'll write your eyes out. I'm a total show-off in many ways (see: this blog), but I stutter when I try to make small talk. I love to write about my opinions and openly share my life with the world, but face-to-face, unless I'm under the influence of a mind-altering substance, I'll often nod my head in agreement not because I think the same way you do but because I can see your point of view and my brain switches off when I attempt to verbally argue my point. Unless I'm a teenager and you're my authoritarian dad, in which case I won't flee from a fight. Or you're an ex-girlfriend. Or I'm off my meds.

That gets me wondering: who am I, really? If psychotropic drugs alter my personality--if I'm calmer and more patient and less moody when I take my daily sertraline--does that mean personality is not fixed, not set a birth, but something more fluid?

Of course it is. Isn't everything?

I recently took another Sassy Quiz-type assessment at work for an up-coming team-building in-service. It revealed that out of four options--Director, Thinker, Socializer, and Relater, I'm a Relater. Not someone who will sell your home, but someone who likes to relate to others and have them relate to me. Someone who craves harmony. Someone who likes to share stories of my life and listen to stories of your life. A "People Who Need People" kind of person.

I wonder what I would have gotten if I had taken the test last year, when I wasn't taking my sertraline, when I was constantly fighting with everyone around me, when I wanted nothing more than to sit in my basement in a state of constant navel gazing? I think I would have gotten Thinker. But maybe I'm over-thinking things. Maybe I'd still be a relater, just one with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Whether or not it's due to the meds or due to my innate traits, I love to analyze people, myself and others. Here's what I see these days:

I live in an imperfect world with wonderfully imperfect people, myself and others, and I'm quite satisfied with that. There will be both good days and bad. Both the sertraline and the self-assessment helps me get out of bed each day, out amongst my family and friends, to experience the world in all its uncategorical splendor.