Asking Questions of Ourselves

I have taken a lot of personality tests. I have taken tests ranging anywhere from scientific evaluations that are 100 questions long, to tests like Buzzfeed’s very own “How Amazing are You?” I even occasionally read my horoscope, but maybe that’s just because I’m a little bit of a dreamer. (I mean, I am a Sagittarius).

Freshman year, while sitting in my room on Newton Campus, I received a Facebook message from my best friend from home. She told me to try the Myers-Briggs test, as she wanted to see how the people in our group of friends meshed together. I took the test and my friend and I had an entertaining time figuring out what that meant and how our friends fit together.

These personality tests are fun and I often take them with my friends. I can sometimes find some truth when I read my results. These results are almost never harsh, and they do a good job of walking the line between vague and determinate, not unlike most horoscopes.

Myers-Briggs is one of the most commonly taken personality tests in the world, whether through The Myers & Briggs Foundation, the organization that offers official evaluations, or through the various other websites offering a similar instrument for free. It feels like everyone has taken the Myers-Briggs at least once, and can typically identify with the four-letter descriptor that it produces upon completion.

The other day, I had to take another Myers-Briggs test, this time for a class at Boston College. Two tests, three years apart, two different results.

At first, I decided to attribute my change in results to the personal growth I have experienced throughout my time at BC. This is a perspective that tells a story and describes myself as the agent of change. My first personality type was “The Campaigner” (ENFP), a person who serves as an influencer, someone who takes a subtle role in a leadership position but pushes results nonetheless.

The type I most recently scored as is “The Entrepreneur” (ESTP), a name which, in my opinion, has a positive and independent connotation. Perhaps this is because my time at college has made me value independence more than I ever had before. I think this change in mindset is something a lot of people experience at BC. There is a common trope of freshmen travelling in packs, and by senior year the jaded senior crosses O’Neill plaza earbuds in, sunglasses on.

My class taught me that the Myers-Briggs is largely an oversimplification because it places people on either side of a dichotomy for four different metrics. That means there are eight different categories and 16 different types total. Considering that there are upwards of 7 billion people on Earth, that seems like too few types of people.

There could still be valuable lessons to discern from the test, however, even if it is fundamentally flawed.

Answering the questions on many of these tests requires a great deal of introspection, and because we are judging ourselves, our responses sometimes do not necessarily reflect reality. In truth, our answers give us insight into our own self-perception instead.

For instance, if someone thinks that being organized is a good quality, someone with high self-esteem might self-evaluate as more organized than they actually are, while someone with low-self-esteem might do the opposite.

Many Myers-Briggs tests have a section in the results that lists the prominent people sharing one’s personality type. This is a way to connect the individual taking the test to someone else. People ascribe fictional characters these types despite there being no canon for them taking the test.

I feel like this is a primary reason why we take these personality tests. It is easy to put people into specific categories instead of thinking complexly about their nuances. This compartmentalizing is constraining, yet helpful for interfacing with the surrounding world.

I think that personality tests can hold value, but this value is in terms of self-perception, as opposed to objective truth. There is nothing wrong with knowing how you perceive yourself, but this is just another metric. Freshman year, I had not yet spent much time at BC, and the most influential people in my life were from home. I framed my answers to personality tests around conversations I’d had with them and experiences we’d shared.

Now, three years later, I have spent hours, days, months with my college friends, who have offered me a completely different perspective on myself.

This has left me questioning whether I have changed fundamentally, or whether those around me have influenced the way I perceive myself. We like to paint ourselves as the drivers of our own experiences, but uncontrollable circumstances often shape our perceptions.

Going into our final year at BC, I think a lot of seniors would love to have a clear cut answer on who they are and what they should do with that knowledge. But I think that furthering my understanding of how I see myself has been just as valuable.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor