What’s Your Type?

by Joyce

I love Penelope Trunk’s blog — it makes me realize how crazy you can be and still live a good life. :)

Anyway, Penelope is really into Myers-Briggs personality types and is always suggesting that you take the test. I cheerfully ignored her for ages, but I finally capitulated while reading this post. “What the hell,” I thought. “How long could it possibly take?”

Well, I’m now a complete convert. I’ve spent the last two weeks learning everything I can about the Myers-Briggs personality types and reevaluating every part of my life under this paradigm.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (abbreviated MBTI) is a psychological tool that measures a person’s personality preferences. It results in four letters which, summarized crudely, represent how you relate to social situations, the way you gather information, the way you make decisions, and the attitude with which you approach day-to-day life. This combination of four letters is your type, and it explains an astonishing amount about your natural personality.

Learning about my type (INTJ) helped me understand a great deal about my habits, strengths, and weaknesses, as well as many of the experiences I’d had.

For example, my two strongest subjects in school were English and Mathematics, a bit of an odd combination. This had never made sense to me until I learned that I’m a Dominant Intuitive, which means I love to analyze and create abstract meaning out of chaotic details. Both English and Math offer a perfect playground for this kind of brain function: English literature with its complex characters and psychologies; Mathematics with its logic and layers of abstraction. In contrast, History and especially Science were taught as a dry list of observations, which held no appeal for me (a bit of a shame, because I’ve since learned that both fields can be fascinating when approached correctly.)

It also explains why I struggled in my last job as a beginning Ruby on Rails developer. I was hired despite being rather underqualified because I came across as intellectually bright and a quick learner. Well, it turns out that I’m a quick conceptual learner, but very little of Rails is conceptual. Most of it is just learning details and gaining experience, which falls more into the Sensing category, my weakest function. I quickly got bored with the material and felt overwhelmed because it seemed like they wanted me to master everything at once. They, on the other hand, were disappointed that I was ramping up more slowly than expected. Six months in, I decided to steer my career away from Rails and we parted ways amicably.

And, for the first time in my life, I have a framework for understanding my mother! My mom is an ESFJ, which is nearly my polar opposite. Despite having a wonderful mother-daughter relationship and being great friends, we’ve both always sensed that the other person was very different and, well, kind of weird. For that matter, I felt that way about most of the world growing up. This went deeper than teenage angst (which I also had plenty of). It was as if most people I encountered didn’t understand how my mind worked. Well, it turns out that Extraverted Sensors (ES) make up over 50% of the population, compared to 4% for Introverted Intuitives (IN). I told that to my husband, an INTP, and he said, “Wow!” That pretty much reflects how we feel.

Anyway, if you’ve never given Myers-Briggs a try, I highly recommend it. Maybe it won’t resonate with you — that was the case when I took it four or five years ago. Then again, maybe it will shed light on a bunch of things that never made sense before.

The official MBTI has be administered by a trained professional, but there are plenty of places online that will give you an approximate analysis. I assessed myself twice, at two different places. The first was this quiz, which asks you 72 seemingly random questions and spits out a type. I didn’t like answering questions without knowing what they were thrusting at and was therefore skeptical of my result, so I verified it with this site, which explains each of the four letter slots and lets you choose your type combination.

After that, I suggest pawing around on Wikipedia, which has a great page on Myers-Briggs and other related concepts, like the Keirsey Temperaments that correspond with the types. There’s also a ton of resources on every type if you just Google it.

Finally, I highly recommend the book Do What You Are, which has a thorough layman’s explanation of the Myers-Briggs system as well as career advice for all 16 types.