Essay by Nikki Gauthreaux
I wish I could say it were funny. The way I cringe and moan when I see a personality test. The way my heart stops when people ask me my Myers Briggs. The way I audibly scream at the latest lighthearted Buzzfeed quiz ascribing me to one of the Disney Princesses or a brand of chicken.
I hate personality tests and personality tests hate me. And we go way, way back.
The beginnings – I’m not a middle child or a Sagittarius
Society tries to peg you as a certain type of person from the very beginning: the day you are born. I was born on November 24, which means that I am automatically an extroverted enthusiast who loves spontaneity and apparently fire. Whenever people describe Sagittariuses (Sagittarii?) I imagine a combustible erratic form of a human. I could be nothing but the opposite of my astrological sign.
Then people move on to describing your behavior in relation to the other people in your family because that makes sense. I am the middle child, therefore I obviously act out and seek attention in every facet of my life. In reality, I despise attention and have never liked people who do. If I ever do act like a middle child, please tell me. Somehow I believe that I act like a normal person unaffected by my order of conception.
The high school career test – I’m not a cabinet maker
My initial identity crises aside, I somehow soldiered on through life to make it to high school. Here, I was definitely more certain of who I was not than who I was. I was not a cabinet maker.
Every year of high school we took an assessment through the Georgia Career Information System. A fine test, I’m sure, but really the source of all of my future career anxieties. The first time I took it freshman year I flew through it and received the result “cabinet maker.” I laughed at this oddly specific title but moved on with my life.
Until I got the same result the next year. And again. And again. Four years in a row I was told that I should be a cabinet maker, and there is something truly horrifying and inaccurate about that.
I am not crafty, I do not take pleasure in construction, I have no affinity for storage spaces. It didn’t make sense. But after four tries, I began slipping into a submissive depression. I am Nikki: cabinet maker. That is my future. I found myself browsing the overalls at thrift stores, experimenting with the different ball caps, trying my hand at a hammer during my spare time. The result was so absurd, but it haunted me throughout high school and further into college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life or what I was good at, but some unknown formula had given me an answer that I needed. Whether I liked it was beside the point.
The end of my meanderings – just choose a major already
There comes a time in everybody’s life where they have to make a choice. I managed to avoid, destroy, and drag out that time until I was physically forced to end it. That point culminated in a scene in a college advisor’s office at the end of my sophomore year with a mouse hanging over the major option box and tears streaming down my face. Why did it have to come to this pathetic point? Again, the source of all evil: personality tests.
It wasn’t until college that I was introduced to the array of assessment tools that exist in this world: Myers-Briggs, 16 Personalities, Goleman’s EQ Test, Sokanu Career Assessment, Social Styles, even Buzzfeed tests became popular during this time. All of these tools that should help you understand who you are but only made me feel more lost. Every time I got a result on a personality test I had an internal crisis where I thought, “But that’s not me,” and ran the test again and again looking for a match I identified with. This whirlwind of uncertainty, coupled with countless meetings, emails, and deep introspection, happened pretty much every day for two years until that pitiful scene in the advisor’s office where they told me I couldn’t graduate if I didn’t choose a major. Even that day I thought the joke was on them because I chose English and Sociology, the most nondescript, open-ended majors out there. Of course, that only led me to more questions throughout my life.
In retrospect, I see that I abused these tests in the past to tell me what to do with my life instead of searching for that path myself. Whenever I was unhappy with the results I would have a breakdown over having no direction or purpose or passion. People have said I don’t like personality tests because I can’t be “boxed in” to one personality type, but it’s really my insecurity with not knowing who I am and wanting a machine to tell me the answer.
Right now in my ninth grade language arts class we are teaching a unit on identity. Romeo and Juliet, Perks of Being a Wallflower, that kind of thing. I wish I could tell my students that their crises are phases that only happen when you’re younger, but the truth is that I still find myself searching for my identity. The labeling that I struggled with in adolescence continues, with people telling me where I should live or what kind of teacher I should be.
The difference is that I have learned to be comfortable with the paradoxes and criticisms that come my way. I am an introvert who wants to work with people for a living. I have an analytical mind but enjoy studying literature. I’m an “advocate” who would prefer not to speak. Now, instead of changing myself to fit a personality type or career, I am using my seemingly incompatible qualities to work with me. It still doesn’t make sense to me, but there is an inner peace that comes with that realization. And it wasn’t because Buzzfeed told me so.
Nikki Gauthreaux is a teaching assistant with Blue Engine in New York City. Driven Media is excited to have her as a contributor in the Fall 2016 self-acceptance essay series.