personality and purpose

David sent me this video this morning. It got me thinking about personality and the way we, and I, use personality as a kind of predestined indicator. While the Myers-Briggs and other instruments of personality sorting have been a great way to get at discussing healthy differences and the value of same they can also sound to some like fixed boxes that make us prisoners to fate of what we imagine our personality holds in store for us. For instance I can take some comfort in knowing why as an extrovert I need socialization and enjoy bouncing ideas off others can I am coming to some decision but I might also surmise that I need to stay in that “lane” for the rest of my life to be happy.

Not so according to TED talk guru Brian Little (no relation), he says that while it true we have basic tendencies to act and socialize in certain ways we humans are capable of stretching and thriving using different personalities if the purpose of our actions is compelling. So an introvert might well summon the stamina and passion to be a good, even great, public speaker and social animator if the purpose of their enterprise contains a goal worth attaining. Likewise an extrovert might learn to spend hours and hours in solitude if the purpose of that alone time resonates with a purpose connected to deeper meaning.

I have certainly seen this at work within me. I took the Myers-Briggs personality indicator questionnaire many years ago. Then, as now, I came out ENTJ, meaning I am an Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking and highly structured, a J. While that outcome has not changed the way my answers determine these titles has. I am still a raving Extrovert but less so. Years and years of sitting in an office to prepare worship and sermons, alone, of processing the pain and hurt of people I am caring for as a pastor, have driven me to increasing solitude. When I first took the MB questionnaire it was relatively close, Intuitive and Sensate. Now I am overwhelmingly intuitive, again in large part due to the work I do. On the Thinking/Feeling axis I moving slowly to the Feeling side, though I am still a very strong T. Interestingly the exception to this theory, that my pastoral and theological work drive to shift some of my personality defaults, does NOT apply to the structured/unstructured pairing of J/P. One might imagine that in the messy world of Ministry and Church I would be pulled to the P, the chaotic, unstructured, in-the-moment, approach to work and social pressures. Exactly the opposite is true, as I deepen in my quiet solitary time, my intuition and my access to the emotional side of my being I have grown increasingly intolerant of the unstructured experience, to the point of my otherwise sunny personality turning downright sour.

Thus I feel Brian Little’s theory is largely true for me, that for the larger purpose and sense of connecting to meaning I have stretched into other personality traits, I was not as limited as I might have imagined years ago. Having something to dedicate my life toward has made my personality function in a slightly different way than was/is my instinct. And yet…I am even more, very much more, committed to the orderly and structured event and the processes that create same.

The good news I lack the arrogance to be shielded from these learnings, I remain open to this kind of inventory, for myself and others. Life is complicated but full of discovery.