I am a big proponent of continuous learning and professional growth. Programs that promote development and growth opportunities for aspiring leaders and address intentional succession planning enable businesses to flourish and individuals to become their best possible selves as employees. Strategic thinking, purposeful goal setting and deliberate planning are essential elements of a productive and satisfying workplace that supports employee engagement.
That being opined, I don’t get the fascination with personality tests to determine who we are and what makes us tick. Improving oneself? Okay, I get that. Create more meaning in one’s life? Check and ditto. However, are not our starting points our starting points? You pretty much have to be yourself ’cause everyone else is already taken.
Yet, according to Wikipedia, the personality-assessment industry in the USA is worth anywhere from $2-4 billion a year (as of 2013). GoodGoogaOprahPhilMooga! Talk about a Ball of Confusion! What makes you YOU apparently puts some impressive greenbacks in the pockets of those who have allegedly perfected introducing you to … well, you.
Self-report tests run the gamut from the formal Myers–Briggs type introspective questionnaire that theoretically reveals differing psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions, to those annoying self-assessing quizzes offered in magazines at the supermarket checkout racks that let you know what ice-cream flavor you would be if you were a flavor. And then there is the seemingly endless fascination with self-assessing quizzes offered by all matter of folks on Facebook that provide unparalleled insight into what floats your boat, especially if you pass it on to 12 of your friends, which is, of course, the ticket to reaping riches and blessings beyond measure.
These quizzes tout their ability to unravel the mysteries of self — who we are, how we got that way, and what, if anything, we can or should do to change. Results “read you” to understand your needs, independence, experiences, biases, motivations, heartstrings, behaviors, goals, etc.
The first personality assessments were developed in the 1920s. They were intended to ease the process of personnel selection, particularly in the armed forces. Today, personality assessment is used in various contexts, including individual and relationship counseling; clinical, forensic and school psychology; employment testing; career counseling; occupational health and safety; and customer-relationship management.
Before I get into the nub of this blog, let me state that I believe there is a big difference between the personality “tests” you find online and tools that have been intentionally designed to foster better communication, work product, and engagement. I’ve been privileged to work with and know some incredible trainers and facilitators who successfully guide their clients and utilize such tools.
As there are copious challenges to the validity of psychological assessments, I thought about what might work better than this pseudoscience and for a far lesser outlay of cash and time. Where else might we best see and assess personality, mental acumen, and character? And, once identified, what can one do with that knowledge to shape one’s life for the better?
After noodling a spell, I believe the key to this psyche analysis is input — i.e., whatever you feed your mind, you become. You are what you consume. It’s not rocket science. Determining where someone’s head is at is as simple as checking out:
- The presets on their radio or satellite-listening device.
- What folks read on their phone and computer and in books and newspapers.
- What folks watch on their phone, computer and television.
- Who they hang with.
Is it not logical that these settings and choices possess a certain predictive power in really knowing an individual? Considering that the “patient” has set their own presets and made their personal choices for information-consumption platforms and peeps, I believe these assessment tools are as reliable as any formalized personality test.
To test my you-become-what-you-input theory, I put together a simple spreadsheet of a few … let’s call them associates … with whom I have spent considerable time over the years. Folks I know well. Sometimes grudgingly. Sometimes not. And I added myself to the list.
In addition to the list containing besties and soulmates, I made sure it also included individuals with whom I had stark differences emotionally, spiritually, subjectively, introspectively, passionately, and even egocentrically. As the list began to take shape, I realized that the extraordinary (and fiendishly problematic) thing about the human psyche is its complexity and diversity. My “subjects” ran the gamut from a few folks who think the sun comes up just to hear them crow, to some who couldn’t find their ass with both hands in their back pockets, to negative nellies and positive peters, to a rare few who pretty much everyone would nominate for sainthood.
And then I filled in what I labeled as influencing data points I knew about these individuals … and my flawed self — e.g., communication preferences, music, political lean, generosity, integrity, loyalty, kindness, sincerity, self-control.
It certainly wasn’t perfect science, and, clearly, nothing was set in stone. Still, pretty much 85% of the “stuff” that I suspected would be an indicator of the personality traits I witnessed regularly was spot-on. It didn’t matter political persuasion, introvert or extrovert, positive or negative, confident or apprehensive, optimistic or pessimistic. I could pretty much tie everything that fed the minds of my “subjects” on a daily basis — music, books, news, movies, family and friends’ viewpoints, hobbies, social media presence — to what had shaped these good folks into who they had become.
Not always, mind you. Life’s circumstances — sometimes tragic and sad — unquestionably fed into the makeup of some individuals. Ditto with who raised you. And some side-by-sides made my theory look like poppycock. Either that or I didn’t know what to do with what I saw — e.g., a preference for country music or heavy metal didn’t demonstrably, to my mind at least, present general tendencies to what folks gravitated to and a person’s outlook on life.
Where am I going with all of this rigmarole? First, keep your credit card in your pocket — you don’t need no stinking personality assessment. You just need to pay attention to the input.
Second, the more diverse the folks and messages we listen to — even if doing so sometimes frustrates us — the more sure our own voices become. Listening — truly listening — and keeping an open mind to other viewpoints begets wisdom and thinkers. That’s a destination that can better one’s soul and make the world a happier place.
Want to be a better person? One who is more often respected than one more known for blather? Guard your gates. Choose input wisely and open up communication avenues to contrariness. Listen fully and be open to compromise. We can all control what we read, see, listen to, and with whom we spend time. And we can adjust the input flow without going all in — right, left or center.
When was the last time you made space for someone or something contrary to your particular self? Opening oneself to cross-cutting viewpoints is essential for alternatives to be effectively contrasted. Exposure to dissimilar views is indispensable in forming valid opinions and in learning to appreciate the perspectives of others. Receptiveness to conflicting mindsets and perspectives is a core element of the kind of political dialogue needed to become a stronger democratic citizenry — one that helps us get to common ground, nudges us toward compromise, and ultimately provides a path to actually getting things done.
I’m not suggesting that we give up a piece of ourselves. Individuals hoping to be better persons (And shouldn’t we all fall into that grouping?) should simply consider opening their minds and be careful what it sees and hears. Set your presets on your communication devices and watch whatever version of news you prefer, but recognize that they and their messengers are not the purveyors of gospel. Neither right nor left. They and their mouthpieces have an agenda … and you have a choice. Wandering off your presets every now and again makes you a better, more well-rounded person.
I offer this conclusion, author unknown:
“So drown yourself in a sea of experience and existence. Let the words run through your veins and let the colors fill your mind until they overflow and you have no choice but to create and show the world who you have become. What stories are forming your life? Choose wisely what you feed your mind and you will become the best version of you.”