Some co-workers were comparing their Myers-Briggs personality types around the water cooler this afternoon.

A lot of us in the sciences are introverts. You’d think a lot of us would also be thinking-types, or intuitive, but that doesn’t actually seem to be the case. No, what really seems to matter is the ability to hole up “by yourself” and work on stuff for hours on end.

I say “by yourself” because, honestly? Unless someone throws you in a cell without internet access, writing utensils, or any of your memories, how can you truly be alone? All of those things give other people access to you, albeit at varying degrees of remove. I wouldn’t carve the population into “introverts” and “extroverts,” were I in charge of writing these tests. Rather, I’d look to classify people based on how, not whether, they prefer to interact with others. Not that anyone’s asked me, but that seems like the kind of information that these tests are really trying suss out, however ineptly, in the first place.

My main reason for getting on the internet and ranting about these things has less to do with how they’re constructed, and almost everything to do with how they’re construed.

See, the way people talk about these things (e.g., “Oh, I’m an ENFP, so that means that computer programmers will never make any sense to me.” or “I’m and ISTJ, so I’ve got a really strongly developed sense of right and wrong.”) makes it sound like these personality classifications are life-sentences. It’s as if, once the personality test of your choice has judged you and sorted you into this heap over there, you’re bound to remain there for the rest of your days.

It’s as if people view these things as inviolable judges of their fundamental characters.

They’re not.

They really, really are not.

They are a snapshot of who your are right now.

They give an overview of which patterns of behavior, given the circumstances that ensnare you at this very moment, you have decided to adopt. Your decisions about how to act, how to frame your thoughts, and how to judge the world around you are, undeniably, partly an expression of your very own special-snowflake-like soul. But they are also strongly dependent on the world that surrounds you.

If you decide at the age of 3, as I did, that you wanted to be an actress, you’d doubtless cultivate every scrap of extroversion you possessed to further that aim.

If you decide at the age of 14, as I also did, that figuring out how the whole damned world worked was the most important thing ever, you’d probably do your utmost to train yourself to become comfortable sitting in a room by yourself for hours on end, scribbling your calculus homework into submission.

So this business of casting everybody into different lots and saying “There you must stay, a {whatever} type of person until your dying day!” is just bullshit; people change constantly.

Or, as they wisely say on Wall Street: past performances aren’t always indicative of future returns.


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