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Posts Tagged ‘personality’

I have a confession to make.

When I’m chatting with someone online and they send me a link, I often don’t want to click on it. Sometimes I even give into temptation and don’t do it. Particularly if it’s a YouTube link. Shocking, I know, but there are only so many viral videos I can take in any given month before I lose all interest. That number, for me, is quite low.

But the other day my friend sent me a link that I clicked on, and I’m glad I did because it features amazing chalkboard art with cool quotations. Here is the one I want to talk about today:

Artwork by two anonymous students at the Columbus College of Art and Design

Artwork by two anonymous students at the Columbus College of Art and Design

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall hoping to transform it into a door.” – Coco Chanel

This reminds me of the Serenity prayer, only punchier and with less potential baggage. I talk about change a lot, but what I don’t remember talking about is how to figure out what is possible to change in the first place. Because some things you can change easily, some things you can change if you work your butt off, and some things…well, you probably can’t change them at all.

At the top of my list of things that cannot be changed? Other people. We can communicate, we can express our needs and desires, in certain contexts we can teach them. But when it comes to people, change comes from the inside, not the outside. And sometimes, as Ferrett so eloquently explains, someone is just bad for us, and we have to walk away. I hate that this is true, but there you have it.

All right, but what about personality? I am thrilled to have this opportunity to point you towards this “How to date an INFJ” post, which explains my personality in enough detail to be a little scary.

(Digression: But Amy, you just said a few months ago that you have become more extroverted, so aren’t you an ENFJ? So yeah, about that. I’ve swung over to the more introverted side again, so apparently I flip-flop depending on, I don’t know, life and stuff. In any case, I definitely started out in life as a solid INFJ. Plus, see item: “INFJs can often mimic other types.” Yup.)

So here are two different personality examples from the post:

Example 1: “INFJs hardly ever initiate anything. They like it when the other person initiates a conversation, contact, etc.”

This description used to fit me to a T, but it’s no longer accurate. I initiate things all the time. I plan parties, I organize board game events, I ask people over, I ask people I don’t know very well to do stuff. It took a lot of practice and will power, but this was possible to change.

On the other hand, I still LOVE it when other people initiate. Most people probably don’t know how absurdly happy I become when I get any piece of communication: an e-mail, a text, even a Facebook message. I am SO HAPPY. And when someone invites me to do something and has obviously given thought as to what I would like to do, well, it is THE BEST THING EVER.

But I have changed initiation from something I cannot do into something that doesn’t hold me back.

Example 2: “For most INFJs, omitting or distorting information is equivalent to lying, and at the very least will rouse their suspicion.”

This description of me is still completely accurate, so much so that when I was typing it out, I realized I have trouble comprehending what it would be like not to think this way. I have tried to work on this, but I have had very limited success. The omission and distortion of information tends to drive me up the wall, and I turn into a stress-ball. My experience so far has confirmed that I cannot emotionally deal with it on a repeated basis and still remain close with the other person involved.

So, never say never, but this aspect of my personality seems a lot less likely to change.

***

Figuring out what is possible to change and what is not can take some trial and error. But the more we can differentiate between the two of them, both in ourselves and in the world around us, the better we can allocate our energy. It’s no fun trying to turn a wall into a door, but it’s amazing to open a door that doesn’t need to remain shut.

What do you think you can change? What do you think you can’t?

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I recently took a couple of online personality tests (the Myers-Briggs and the IPIP-NEO), and my results have changed. I’m now coming out fairly firmly on the extroverted side of things instead of being almost exactly in the middle.

I want to leave aside, for now, the argument that introversion is not a personality trait. I also don’t want to delve deeply into the sometimes ignorant stereotypes and oversimplification that goes along with discussions of introversion and extraversion.

I have not been trying to change into more of an extrovert, but I think me doing so has been a side effect of another change I have been trying to make: namely, to develop a backbone, tone down the people pleasing, and learn to set boundaries.

As it turns out, it is exhausting to be around people when you are a people pleaser. Full stop. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert. It doesn’t matter if you know how to make conversation or can be a good listener or are a generally pleasant person to be around.

It takes huge amounts of energy to be around people when you aren’t allowed to say no, don’t value your own opinions and feelings and desires, and won’t stand up for yourself. Because the people around you might ask you to do something that you can’t possibly or don’t want to do for them. Or they might (inadvertently or not) treat you without respect. Or they might disagree about how something should happen, and then there will be conflict, which is anathema to the people pleaser. Or they might do something that bothers you but to which you do not feel able to respond.

At some point, in order to protect yourself from this huge expenditure of emotional energy, you might begin to build a wall around yourself. You might find yourself wishing to be alone because being alone is the only time when you can truly relax and be peaceful. You might keep other people at arms’ length to minimize the requests and the conflicts and the fatigue. You might need a lot of time to recharge after socializing.

You might appear to be an introvert.

But as it turns out, with proper implementation of boundaries, there are possibilities! You can say no. You can set limits on the behavior you’re willing to accept. You can stand up for your opinions. You can have opinions in the first place. You can object. You can have emotions. You can leave if you’re not having a good time.

You can be a better friend because you no longer need to demand perfection from yourself or from other people. You don’t need perfection when you’re allowed to communicate and take care of yourself.

And at some point, being around people just doesn’t take up as much energy as it used to.

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Where’s Amy? Photo by Yvette Ono, photographer extraordinaire.

Let me be clear. I don’t think all or even most introverts are people pleasers, and that this is why they are introverts. I put no value judgment on how much time people like to spend with other people or how much alone time people want. But I do think that being a people pleaser can mask or change parts of the personality. In my own case, being a people pleaser encouraged me to become more introverted. But as I have been focusing on becoming less of a people pleaser, I’ve also been changing my social behavior and my attitude towards it.

I like seeing markers of progress, even unexpected ones. And I like feeling more fully myself.

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I didn’t write a blog post earlier this week because I have the flu, and I spent most of Monday sleeping, and most of the rest of Monday having such a high fever that all I could do was sit around and think strange thoughts. I haven’t been this sick for quite some time. But I am going to do my best to write something for you today.

I’m going to tell you a story. Sometimes now when I write I hear James Altucher in my head saying “Bleed on the page.” And I see the photo of Penelope Trunk’s bruise after she had a fight with her husband. And I say to myself, I could never do that. But today I have the flu, which means I can do things I sometimes think I can’t, so this is that kind of story, only Amy-style.

I was sixteen or seventeen, in drama class. My drama teacher was big on improvisation and on giving us assignments that required improv. I wanted to be handed a script and learn my lines and figure out blocking, but that’s not the way things were done in drama most of the time.

My group was doing a skit that showed a teenage girl finding out she was pregnant in the middle of a family dinner. I was supposed to play the girl’s big sister who offered sage advice in a touching sisterly scene later on in the skit. But my classmate who was supposed to play the pregnant teen had been out sick for a long time, and eventually we had to perform the skit without her for our grade. So at the last minute, I had to step in to play the part.

Afterwards, I thought it had gone about as well as could be expected, given the lack of rehearsal time. I sat with the rest of my class in the seats facing the stage, glad it was over, until the drama teacher began really tearing into my performance.

Was I aware, she said, that I had been smiling the entire time? How horrible and awkward it had been, and how amazing my fellow group members were for somehow managing to continue on in the face of such a poor performance. And then she came right up to me, in front of the entire class, and said, “Do you always smile when you’re sad? Do you?” She was insisting on an answer I couldn’t give her, and it was all the worse because the answer was yes. And I hadn’t even known it until that very moment.

To this day, when I think of this story, my heart hurts.

I can even smile when I have the flu. Now there's talent for you. :)

I can even smile when I have the flu. Now there’s talent for you. 

Sometimes conditioning runs so deep that we don’t realize what we’re doing, even when we’re working very hard to be mindful. I write in this blog about a lot of things I still struggle with. I’m still a perfectionist. I’m still sometimes a people pleaser. I tell you that your emotions are okay, but I don’t always believe that for myself. When something happens that is upsetting for me, my first instinct is to pretend everything is okay.

Once upon a time, it was extremely important that I be good at acting in a very specific way. One that didn’t go over well in drama class.

That story is over now. But I still smile sometimes when I’m sad.

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Some of my astute readers might have noticed that I initiated a massive life re-haul and personality shift this year. I have written a fair amount about being a people pleaser, developing a backbone, and being a perfectionist because these were things that were on my mind. I decided, somewhere in the haze of extreme tooth pain, that I needed to change, and I set about doing just that.

I’m still in the middle of it. It has already been completely worth it.

It is one of the hardest things I’ve done.

Here is what I have learned: You have to respect yourself. You have to believe that you are worth it. And you have to do whatever it takes to convince yourself you are worth it, even if it means muttering silly mantras to yourself and being glad you work at home so no one suspects you are crazy.

I have spent my entire life believing that if only I was good enough (oh, hey perfectionism), people would love me, respect me, and treat me well. I really wish this were the case, but I was flat-out wrong. The truth is, if you are willing to let something happen, the odds are that it will happen. If you are willing to tolerate being lied to, then people will lie to you. If you are willing to let people ignore you, then they will. If you don’t take a stand against bad behavior towards yourself, then that bad behavior will continue. The world doesn’t give you a voice, you have to demand it.

And in order to demand the respect you deserve, you have to give it to yourself first. You have to believe you are worth it.

Photo by Anita Hart

This self-respect is not the same as thinking you are perfect and infallible and can’t possibly make a mistake. Therein lies another problem (oh, hey narcissism). And it doesn’t preclude feeling compassion for people, even (and especially) the ones who are in the middle of making your life difficult.

What self-respect does give you is the ability to empower yourself. It gives you the choice of surrounding yourself with people who will lift you up instead of pulling you down. It gives you the chance to speak up. It gives you permission to refuse to take on every single problem as your own, when so many of them aren’t really yours at all. It gives you the strength to confront the parts of yourself that you don’t like. It gives you the space to say “No.”

No, I am not your bitch. But thanks for asking.

Remember that you are worth it. That is what I have learned this year.

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When I was entering the job market in my early twenties, I tried to be proactive and prepare for the inevitable interview process. The hypothetical question that all the articles told me I had to be ready for that freaked me out the most was the perennial: What is your greatest weakness? I still hate this question. I mean, there you are, trying your best to sell yourself in a high pressure situation and then you’re forced to talk about your less than ideal points? Plus, according to said interview advice, what you were really supposed to do was choose a “weakness” that you could spin as a positive, meaning that the entire exchange was just an elaborate test of whether or not you could bullshit effectively. Ugh. Anyhow, I chose perfectionism as my flaw, which was one of the examples used on the internet as a good choice. Because perfectionism (I thought) shows that you are actually very diligent, hardworking, detail oriented, and competent.

I never got asked that question in an interview.

Which is just as well, because after having spent years and years of my life as a recovering perfectionist, I can say with authority that the negatives far outweigh any positives. And if I had answered the way I’d planned to anyone with insight into human character, it might very well have cost me the job.

Nothing and no one living is always perfect. (Photo by jfh686 on flickr)

Not convinced? Let me draw your attention to some perfectionism highlights:

1. Freeze/block: Yes, perfectionism can cause things like writer’s block. I know because to this day it gives me trouble while I’m writing. Once a perfectionist realizes there is no way to get a given job done perfectly, it becomes oh so very difficult to do that job at all. At least, if we actually care about the job at all. The less we care, the easier it is to avoid the freeze.

2. Inefficiency: Unless the perfectionist’s target IS efficiency, of course. Because it’s so hard for us to leave something alone and actually call it done. If we just made another little tweak…or a hundred. If we only had time to start over. You’d better hope your perfectionist is feeling perfectionistic about deadlines, or it’s all over. (Happily, I am in fact a perfectionist about deadlines, so at least I get to finish, whether I like it or not.)

3. Stress: If you aren’t a perfectionist yourself, just imagine a world in which everything you are even tangentially involved with has to be perfect and go exactly as planned. And if it’s not perfect, you have failed and it is All. Your Fault. And if it doesn’t go as planned, then life is ruined. And if only you could be a little better, maybe all the problems in the universe would disappear. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Yeah, I’ll get right on that.

4. Obliviousness, otherwise known as self denigration: Because perfectionists hold ourselves to such impossible standards, we often fail to notice, or give ourselves appropriate credit for, the awesome things we may accomplish. We may not notice positive character traits, and if we do, we think they’re no big deal. If we achieve something big, we focus on what we didn’t achieve yet, something we failed at, or explain why it isn’t important: Well, but I’ve only made one pro sale. Well, but I’ve only sold one novel. Well, but I was only able to succeed at x because I failed so spectacularly at y. Well, but I’m not that intelligent because I don’t have a PhD/don’t have a deep understanding of quantum mechanics/don’t speak six different languages fluently.

So yes, all is not fun bright times in perfectionism world. While perfectionism does often create driven personalities who go on to achieve great things, I think there are ways of being driven and ambitious without being quite so hard on ourselves. One of my favorite parts of The West Wing was when President Bartlett had dealt with a problem, often less than perfectly, often when there were no good solutions or easy answers. He’d always turn right around and say, “What next?” What next allows us to focus on what we can do instead of dwelling on our inability to be perfect.

Any other perfectionists out there? Any strategies you use to help you work through it? Any aspects you find especially difficult? I’d love to hear from you.

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I’ve been following a conversation on one of the forums I belong to about what works when blogging. You know, the type of discussion in which we talk about what engages the reader and what might increase a blog’s audience, while sharing do and do not tips and all the normal considerations of blogginess.

The estimable Ferrett shared a link on his post on how to get comments. There is much good advice to be had in this essay and the one about blogging that precedes it, but there was one sentence that particularly stood out for me. Ferrett says, “If you’re a conciliatory person by nature, writing a pleasant essay that excuses whatever it is that bugs you with a “But I guess that’s how people are” will not get comments either, because you’ll be so wishy-washy that nobody will be able to disagree with you.”

This sentence popped out at me because I had an instant “ouch” moment of recognition. Yeah. I went through the “Oh no, I probably do that” period to the “Oh God, I hate it when people are wishy-washy” phase to the “I need to stop doing that” realization. It was fun like having a root canal done is fun (and wow, do I now know a whole lot about that). And thus the idea of my newest project was born.

The fact is, I want to be a nice person. And I want you to like me. I don’t even know who you all are, but that doesn’t matter; I just de facto want you to like me. Which I hope you can see can be a bit crazy-making. I enjoy smoothing things over, keeping things calm, following the rules, being reasonable and fair-minded, and not stirring up the pot. Being a people pleaser is, in a way, very reassuring. It allows me to feel that I have some control over life. Never mind that I know intellectually that I have about as much control over my life as I do over the U.S. government (I vote, so there’s my tiny little sliver of control right there).

Unfortunately, there is such a thing as too nice, and sometimes I have trouble finding that line. Plus I definitely do not want to be wishy-washy (the horror!). Hence the project. I am going to write THREE blog posts that are not conciliatory. Well, at least I’m going to try very hard, and you can tell me how I’m doing. I’m planning to publish all three in a row if possible, but in any event I will publish them all in a timely manner. (Really I want to write only one, and then see how it goes, and then maybe write another one if it wasn’t so bad. Talk about wishy-washy! So that’s why I’m committing up front to three.)

I’m depending on you, my readers, to help me make this project a success. Here are some ways you can get involved:

  1. If you are also a people pleaser and a blogger, you can make your own commitment of writing x number of non-conciliatory posts. I will cheer you on, and we can provide moral support for each other!
  2.  You can tell me how I’m doing and call me out if I’m being too nice in spite of myself. I’m so used to doing it, I’m pretty sure I’ll do it sometimes without even realizing it. So I need your eyes.
  3. You can function as a part of my own elite cheerleading squad, telling me how great it is that I’m saying things people could disagree with.
  4. You can disagree with me. In public. Especially if you are a people pleaser too, but really no matter who you are. (Just no trolling. Trolling is not cool and will not advance the cause.)

Right. First post should come out on Thursday. Wish me luck, and feel free to share any last-minute tips (believe me, I’m going to need them).

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Since I wrote my essay on ambiversion last summer, I’ve been thinking about the introvert-extrovert continuum a great deal. Perhaps even more so because that essay is by far the most popular one on this site and continues to draw in a fair amount of search traffic. This makes me think I’m not the only person who cares about such things.

What have I been thinking? I’ve been embracing my identity as an introvert, actually. I’ve spent most of my life unconsciously believing that being an introvert is a Bad Thing. Because, you know, those extroverts have all the fun. While I do believe that American culture contributes to this belief, I see no reason why I can’t be as nonconformist about this as I am about other widely held issues.

So here is my official announcement: Being an introvert is AWESOME! I get to have deep and interesting conversations with people, either one-on-one or in small groups. I get to do amazing creative projects that often require heaps of hours by myself, and it doesn’t bother me. I can be perfectly happy and content and charged without having to take the trouble to make sure I have social plans every single free moment of the day. I get to spend lots of time thinking, which means I get to analyze and learn and have plenty of “aha!” moments. And I tend to think more before I speak, which means I have a better chance of being able to support the people I care about (not to mention a better chance of avoiding saying the most stupid things that pop into my head).

Sure, being an introvert means I have to work harder at being assertive. But since I’m not down at the far end of the introversion spectrum, a lot of the more difficult aspects of it don’t bother me. Basically, I’m an introvert who can pass. (Perhaps this is the real definition of an ambivert: Someone who is not so extreme on the spectrum, so they are able to pass for the other if convenient.) This means that often I can enjoy the best of both worlds, and I’m not dodged by people’s perceptions of my introversion.

What I have realized is that being an introvert and lacking social skills are not the same thing. Imagine my surprise at this discovery! Someone can be an introvert and still have excellent social skills (or successfully develop them). Or someone can be an extrovert who has zero social skills. While there may be a certain amount of correlation between extroverts and social ability, it certainly doesn’t seem to exclude these other possibilities.

This became even clearer to me when I took another personality test based on colors (here is a version of it if you love taking personality tests as much as I do). My highest color is blue, which is the social helper type. Yes, I’m a self-esteem builder who gets the most satisfaction from work that allows me help and inspire others and make a difference in their lives. No surprise that I’ve spent most of my adult life being a teacher and writer. It even fits in with this blog of mine, doesn’t it? And yet I’m also an introvert. These two parts of myself are not in conflict. In fact, I believe that being an introvert actually assists me to better understand and inspire others. How’s that for some positive framing?

Here’s my question for you: how does being an introvert or an extrovert help you in your life? And if necessary, can you pass as the other type (be an introvert who appears to be an extrovert or an extrovert who appears to be an introvert)?

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