I got this book out of the library based on a passionate recommendation from Penelope Trunk, a blogger I read often. I thought I’d adore it, as I love her blog, think she has amazing insights into job and career advice, and anyway, I like self-help books of all stripes. I even read self-help books for problems I don’t have.
I also love personality tests. I love enneagram, OCEAN, “What Color is your Aura” and even Chinese and western zodiac tests. I have books on palm reading and phrenology and that thing where they tell how easy you are to hypnotize by looking at your eyes. I adore this stuff. I want to like Myers-Briggs. I really do. But I don’t. I think it sucks and I can’t figure out why so many people put such store into it.
Unlike the enneagram, “What color is your aura”, and zodiac, Myers-Briggs doesn’t give you an easy-to-remember answer, like a number or a color or an animal. They have some shorthand, like “mastermind” or “artisan” or “enforcer” and these are great, but not universal. All the four letter jumbles look and sound pretty much the same, so good luck telling one from another at first glance.
Unlike enneagram, Myers-Briggs says who you are is set in stone, and can not ever be changed or altered. If you can’t change, what’s the point in any self-help book ever? If you believe you are x and will always be, what’s the motivation to expand your horizons?
I change. I mature, and learn new things, and improve weaknesses. This may be the reason I get a completely different result every time I take the Myers-Briggs. 5 tests, over a period of 20 years, 5 different answers. I think it’s because personality traits as determined by the MBTI are learnable skills. I was shy, but I learned to be social. I used to daydream, but I’ve learned to take care of details. The MBTI aplogists will say that who I am underneath has not changed, but to say these are not meaningful changes is like telling someone who lost a lot of weight, “you are still a fat girl.”
Unlike OCEAN, Myers-Briggs type indicators don’t allow for a spectrum. In Myers-Briggs, you are one or the other. I think many (if not most) mentally healthy people are close to the middle of the spectrum. Being an emotionally healthy and mature adult means learning to balance empathy with logic, and knowing when to focus on the big picture, and when to focus on the details, for example. This lack of spectrum causes problems when you take the MBTI as gospel. In Myers-Briggs the difference between ENTJ and INTJ is huge, which means that if you’re in the 49%-51% range, it’s easy to feel like a platypus in the mammal-reptile war.
By far the biggest problem with this type indicator test is that it’s all self-assessment, and self-assessment isn’t necessarily accurate. Callous jerks can think they’re nice guys. Finnish people can think they’re extroverted because they speak to at least one person every day. And whom are you comparing yourself to? Among ranchers in Wyoming, I’m high-strung and neurotic as a purebred cat. Among overeducated, underpublished Brooklyn 30-year-olds, I’m suddenly a zen master. The “good” tests ask about sometimes, always, never, but people generally think about whatever looms large in their mind. If you live with 8 brothers who are always hounding you, you’re likely to think you’re an introvert. If your co-worker reminds you ever day about tiny things that he remembers and you don’t, you might think you’re bad at details. Most of us don’t have a plethora of examples for these “sometimes, always, never”, and we’ll go with whatever looms largest.
This book has a lot of nice tools for explaining what EINSTFJP mean, but even picking and choosing, I couldn’t really come up with anything that seemed right. Even when I did find one, it wasn’t long before I read something else and thought, “well, I guess THAT’s wrong.” Perhaps it is because I am vast. I contain multitudes.
Another problem with this book, though it could be a feature rather than a bug for some, is how in-depth it goes into the personality types. The amount of detail is astounding, and shows great foresight and complexity of mind. Too bad the facts are all imaginary. This reminded me of when I was a kid and I’d read about the zodiac signs and they’d say “As a Taurus, your favorite color is pink and your lucky number is 5.” And I’d kind of sigh, because I hate pink, and how is “lucky 5″ in any way verifiable?
Some people might like the “this is who you are, so this is what you’re like” didacticism, but I think it’s limiting and wrong. Your four letter alphabet soup MBTI type is not who you are. It’s frustrating for the same reason why I get frustrated when my kids and their friends try something once and say “I’m good at this!” or “I’m not good at this!” and think that’s the end-all-be-all. Let’s put everyone into a box where they stay and then we don’t have to work to change (or admit that people are complex.)
Another reason why this book isn’t as useful as it could be is that there isn’t much of a way of being able to tell what a job is going to be like before you’re into it. When I was a kid, I thought that being an artist meant spending all day painting. Now that I know some artists, I know that it’s more like being a small-business owner, heavy on the marketing. Some novelists spend 95% of their time writing in a room alone. Others travel 6-8 months of the year, selling themselves at cons and readings. Same “job”, vastly different work. So even if this were wonderful and accurate about telling you who you were, it wouldn’t be helpful because you don’t really know what X profession does all day unless you either have X profession or can talk to someone who does. And so many jobs are not one-word jobs anyway. Personally, I think instead of asking “do you like to work with facts, or with people” it’s more useful to ask “do you prefer to work on commission, or salary-based.” You shouldn’t need to take a personality test to know if you just want to work for money or if you need your job to have meaning. You should just know.
If I felt that any of the information in this book was based on a system that had some kind of scientific validity, I might have had a different reaction to it. As it is, it’s kind of like “zodiac guide to getting a one-word job you’re not qualified for and don’t know what it’s like anyway.”
This book might be fun to read, if you don’t take it too seriously. If you’re the kind of person who might read “the zodiac guide to relationships” or “the enneagram diet,” you’ll probably find this amusing in an “everyone likes to hear about themselves” kind of way.