People like to take personality tests to figure out which boxes they fit into. I have a problem with this. I recently took 2 free versions of the Myers-Briggs test from 2 different websites and got different answers - one said I was an ENTP, the other said I was an ENFJ. I then looked at a test I’d done a few years ago and I was an ESTP. Sure, one could argue that the actual Myers-Briggs test would be the most accurate, but honestly, who knows. But there's a larger issue here.
I’ve always had a secret motto - just like “Nobody puts Baby in the corner”, “Nobody puts Nammy in a box” … or anyone else for that matter. Society is constantly trying to categorize us so they can make sense of how to educate us, market to us, employ us, medicate us, or even discriminate against us. (The Pink Floyd overtones here are purely coincidental, by the way). And to a certain degree, this does serve a useful purpose because it helps us to organize our lives and our communities better. But the breakdown happens when you start to take it too literally and let it dictate every life choice.
For example, if I’m a millennial Italian female democrat who is introverted and interested in science, I’ll most likely only seek information, experiences, or careers that are in line with the boxes I fall into. And if I’m not actively doing that myself, you bet the companies mining my data are doing it for me. As a result, I don’t get enough exposure to the other side or develop an appreciation for it. Talk about echo chambers! There’s also the possibility that I could be entirely WRONG about some of those boxes. Maybe it was a personality test I took in school, peer pressure, or conditioning that convinced me that I should be categorized and hence live my life a certain way, but if I’d just taken the time to explore the other side, I would have realized sooner rather than later that it just wasn’t valid.
Assigning labels also puts us at a disadvantage because it doesn’t account for changes that take place over time. Whether it has to do with ideology, values, preferences, or intelligence, I’m a different person today than I was in high school, college, or even in my 20’s, and I’m sure I’ll continue to evolve in the decades to come. So many of us are shaped by our surroundings, life events, or the information we consume. But are we really cognizant of these changes?
What about the fact that most things in life aren't so black and white? Needlessly categorizing ourselves leaves very little room for the gray area. If I'm a dog person, I'm automatically anti-cat. If I'm an extrovert, I can't also exhibit tendencies of an introvert. And the list goes on. We've already seen society become more and more polarized. Is this a good thing? If not, what's the solution?
Ok, you’ve heard me say this with almost everything, but it begins with being aware. Take some time to sit down and think about what categories you fit into and write all of these categories down. Then ask yourself a few questions. Are these categories or labels valid? How did these categories get assigned to you? Was it by choice, by default, and even if seemingly by choice, what was motivating that choice? How have your life choices or activities been influenced by these categories? And on the flipside, what new categories have been assigned to you as a result of life events? How have you evolved over time?
Ok, that’s a lot of questions, but I didn’t say this was a 5-minute exercise or even a one-time thing. These are questions you could ask yourself at regular intervals. Why? Simply because it’s important for any sort of progress whether that's in your personal or professional life. To paraphrase Jason Silva, this self-awareness will protect us from developing a very short-sighted view of what could be.
What are some boxes you've put yourself in that may be holding you back? I'd love to hear.