I have taken the Myers-Briggs personality test at least 10 times. The first time was eight years ago, in my seventh-grade English class, and the last time was four days ago. Every single time that I have taken it, I have gotten the same result, except on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008.
The Myers-Briggs test arranges people into one of 16 categories, according to how they place in each of four areas. These four areas have two subcategories: Introvert (I) or Extrovert (E), Intuitive (N) or Sensing (S), Feeling (F) or Thinking (T), and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P). The exact definitions of these terms aren’t all that interesting, nor is how Myers and Briggs decided on them, or why they are supposed to be comprehensive. What is important is that the four separate letters, combined, are supposed to describe the whole of your personality. Most people would say that’s the same as telling you who you are. You may be an ENTP. You may be an ISTJ. You may be an ESFJ.
Statistically speaking, you will probably not be an INFJ.
Less than 1 percent of the population falls under the category of INFJ, also called the Counselor. Described in one word, they are “sensitive.” They crave peace and want to make life better for the people around them. They want their relationships with people to be deep and important. You may think you know who they are, but you can’t, because they don’t show you. Their internal worlds are rich and varied, but they keep those worlds clutched tight in their arms. They are Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, and for some reason, Oprah Winfrey.
Eight years ago, I was an INFJ. (But I was not Oprah.)
An INFJ seeks peace; I was always at war. I was easily angered and easily injured. If the people around me were suffering, I didn’t see it, because I was too busy wandering around in that handy internal world of mine, and making necklaces out of safety pins and pop tops. I believed that I was as private and as mysterious as my personality description suggested, but how mysterious could I be, screaming and stewing all the time, showing everyone very clearly who I was, though I had no idea what they were seeing.
A test’s validity is determined by how well it measures what it is supposed to measure. How valid could this test really be, if who I was so adamantly contradicted what the test told me I was? I did not know it at the time, but Myers-Briggs did a terrible job of revealing to me who I actually was. It was almost useless.
Somehow, despite all of this, the test’s results meant more to me then than they do now. They told me who I was. They gave me a category. They made me an individual: the rarest personality type. INFJ.
I know that people can grow. If we were the same at 12 as we were at 20, no one would like us, and we might still listen to boy bands. But I believed that time would make me a better INFJ — more like Martin and Eleanor and Oprah, as it were. Because people change, but not that much. People change, but they can still fall into the same categories, because the heart of who they are is the same. I did not think that time would make me into something else entirely.
You may be an ESTP. You may be an INTP. You may be an ENFP.
Statistically speaking, you will probably not be an ISFJ.
Less than 10 percent of the population falls under the category of ISFJ, the Protector. Described in one word, they are “dependable.” They crave stability and seek to keep the people around them safe. Like Batman without the gadgets. They tend to hold people at arm’s length. They are easily hurt and find it difficult to hide their emotions. They value rules, regulations, and institutions, and are not spontaneous. They are perceived as stiff, cold, and quiet, though they love with a wincing, clenching power that throbs just beneath the surface. They are Mother Teresa, Queen Elizabeth II, and Robert E. Lee.
I am now one of them.
The word that summarizes my personality, that encloses me entirely, is… “dependable”?
“Dependable” is a word for golden retrievers, economy cars and saltine crackers. It is a word for oatmeal. And beige. It is not a word for me. I will never own a business suit. I will never have a nine-to-five job in a cubicle. I am not beige, and I am not oatmeal. I cannot be this: the Protector, the perpetually underappreciated, the stiff, the frugal, the distant. I cannot possibly be that bland.
But I drive a 2005 Honda Civic. Black, with a scraped bumper where someone with a trailer-hitch backed into it. I chose it myself, though my father suggested a Volkswagen Bug (which would have been ridiculous). The reason for my selection? Honda Civics are — yes, that’s right — dependable. They do not attract unnecessary attention. They are efficient and practical. They are ISFJs.
But I drive a Honda, and I hate roller coasters. The last time I was on a carnival ride, I spent the entire time screaming like a large man was coming after me with a chain saw, and when the torture was over, I could barely walk. My reaction to roller coasters, aside from being somewhat comical, says something about me. I would have been much more comfortable watching from the ground while everyone else had the time of their lives. I do not enjoy any amount of fear, and the decisions I make without prior planning tend to turn out badly. That rush of adrenaline the rest of you get when you’re speeding toward the ground at seventy five miles per hour in a metal car that smells like urine, that makes you scream with delight? I hate that. I would rather ride the teacups.
I am not spontaneous. I will always be the designated driver. I have never wanted adventure or excitement. I do not “let loose.”
Oh man. I am an ISFJ.
When I was twelve years old, I was at war because all of the potential pathways of my life were getting themselves into knots. There were so many people that I could become. As I grew older, those pathways began to fade from my periphery. Instead of being tugged in a thousand different directions, I was faced with only two: change or inertia. And the war of anger, like the wars of men, must find an end. In the end, He ended the war.
Personality tests are valid because the participant makes them true. If I believe that I am a certain way, I will behave that way. The human mind molds the personality like two pressing palms, pushing it into the right shape. Because I have an idea of who I am, I am who I am.
My test results said I was an INFJ, eight years ago, because I had no idea who I wanted to be, and the Counselor was my best approximation. The results were inherently meaningless because I made them meaningless. But is ISFJ what I want to be? Do I find something inherently wrong with the fact that I am not magnetic, and engaging, and full of the kind of joy that other, more vibrant people exude from their very nostrils?
The people we most often take note of are not like me. People like me do not like to be jostled, and like it even less when the people we love are jostled. People like me work into the night, after everyone else is asleep, and would rather let you see what we have done than who we are. I may be stiff, but in a world that constantly alters, leaving us fumbling and empty handed, I will remain constant, and that is enough. There is nothing shameful about standing immovable when everything else is in violent motion.
Of course, four letters aren’t enough to describe anyone. We are all capable of recognizing that we extend beyond the limits of a few categories, and that what we are can’t be crammed into one of sixteen molds. All that Myers-Briggs can tell me is a name for what I’ve chosen to make myself. And I have chosen this shape. I have held it in my hands.