Self-Actualize This

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Okay, so I’ve accepted the fact that I am at a point where I am in need of some change. I’m not going to call it a midlife crisis because, really, it’s silly to call something that’s been going on this long a “crisis.” I just don’t need that kind of drama. Plus, we have Prozac.  

Instead, I’ve been trying to find a methodical way to think about what I would really like to do with my life. Well, it turns out that there’s a lot on offer out there in the way of career counseling guidance.  

For one thing, there are personality tests, designed to tell you what your particular personality type and talents are geared toward.  The most famous of these tests is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  Based on Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types (even if you haven’t read his work, fellow children of the 70s and 80s will remember him from the theory of Synchronicity that Sting references often on the Police album of the same name), the MBTI divides personality traits into four basic parameters and then uses all the combinations that can result from your preferences in each category to fit you into one of 16 basic personality types.  Like you can be a “Promoter,” who is an ESTP — an Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiver — or, in the opposite corner, a “Counselor” or INFJ – an Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judger.  (And if you’re, again, a child of the 70s and 80s, you can also associate these types with “Star Wars” characters, thank you www.geekinheels.com, making me feel truly sorry for any Provider [ESFJ] personalities, because aside from supposedly being extroverted, sensitive, feeling and judgy, now you also have to be associated with Jar Jar Binks). At first, I thought I couldn’t take the MBTI because the official site says it can only be administered by a certified administrator who can interpret your results for $150 and I’m a cheap bastard. But I found a link to a site where you can take the test for free and do your own self-analysis, which is something I spend hours on end doing anyway, so I answered the 72 yes-or-no questions and found myself to be an ENTJ, but sort of in a borderline way. I showed a slight (11%) preference for Extroversion over Introversion; a moderate preference for Intuition over Sensing (38%); a moderate preference for Thinking over Feeling (38%); and a moderate preference of Judging over Perceiving (44%). According to humanmetrics.com, this means my career choices are: Business Management, Management of Education, Military Education, Politics, Law, Counseling, Engineering, Industrial Management, Manufacturing Management, Higher/Post-Secondary Education, Computer Programming, and Cardiology Technologist. Well, that narrows things down, doesn’t it?  Famous people who are also ENTJs: Napoleon, FDR, Mark Anthony, Sean Connery, Madonna, Nixon, Candace Bergen, Jim Carrey, Rahm Emanuel, Harrison Ford, Newt Gingrich, Whoopi Goldberg, Al Gore, Steve Jobs, Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver, and Margaret Thatcher.  ENTJs supposedly are “natural corporate leaders” and “take charge people.”  Hmmm.  I’m not sure about the “corporate” part, or, for that matter, the “take charge” part, even if I will occasionally take charge when nobody else is doing it.  Plus, Jim Carrey?  And Napoleon???  I may be short and occasionally hyperactive, but I’m not that short.

I decided to take the test a second time. This go round, perhaps because taking the test the first time had put me in a cranky mood, I got a more definitive diagnosis (if that’s what you call it) of INTJ: 11% preference for Introvert over Extrovert; distinctive preference for Intuition over Sensing (62%); moderate preference for Thinking over Feeling (50%); and a distinctive preference for Judging over Perceiving (67%). According to the site where I got my results, INTJs “know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don’t know.” Well, that does sound like me. This also means that my career choices were now, instead, Natural Science, Natural Science Education, Information Systems, Computer Programming, and Librarian. Wait, that’s it? ENTJs have like a million choices (okay, 12), and INTJs have four and a half? Famous people who are my kin INTJers: Isaac Newton, Niels Bohr, Carl Jung(!), Susan B Anthony, Lance Armstrong, Arthur Ashe, Jane Austen, Richard Gere, Rudy Giuliani, Emily Bronte, C.S. Lewis, Martina Navritilova, Michelle Obama, Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, Arnold Schwartzenegger, and Woodrow Wilson.

So overall, this is a pretty big difference, to be told one minute that I’m an executive maverick and the next that I’m a scientist mastermind. To sum it up, again, in pop culture terms, I went from being Princess Leia to Emperor Palpatine, or James Potter to Draco Malfoy.

In search of a test that wouldn’t brand me as evil, I decided to try the Holland Occupational Themes test (RIASEC is the anagram, sadly, not HOT), another “theory of careers and vocational choice based on personality types” developed by the psychologist John L. Holland.  Between dividing you into a type — Realistic (Doers), Investigative (Thinkers), Artistic (Creators), Social (Helpers), Enterprising (Persuaders) and Conventional (Organizers) — and making secondary characteristics “Sub-dominant” and “Minor,” it gets you to one of 720 possible personality patterns (take that MBTI!), which are then used to tell you what job you should have.  

Well, I took this test four times. The first, third and fourth times, I came up with that I was some combination of S(ocial), A(rtistic) and I(nvestigative), which doesn’t seem far-fetched. The second time, however, I somehow came up with R(ealistic) replacing Artistic in my top three, and the last time, C(onventional) also tied with Investigative and Artistic in Sub-dominance.  Like ENTJ to INTJ, seems like sort of a big switch to happen in a matter of minutes, especially considering that, let’s face it, it doesn’t make much sense to be an artist if you are either conventional or realistic. And on top of that, the order matters. At the site for Rogue Community College in Oregon (I believe that’s the name of the school, not a description), I’m told that as an IAS, where my Investigativeness (investigativity?) dominates, followed by my Artsiness, I should definitively be a Marketing Research Analyst (there are no other options listed), whereas as an ISA, which bumps Arty to third behind Social, I have the multiple options of Economist, Media Technologist, Nurse Practitioner, Physician Assistant and Psychologist. I found that as an ASI, I should be an Editor or a Writer and Author, whereas as an AIS, apparently I do not exist. When Social dominates, my career prospects become Chaplain, Dental Hygienist, Librarian or Speech Pathologist if my Sub-dominance is Artistic, and Counseling Psychologist, Registered Nurse or Sociologist if it’s Investigative. And you can get into even more gritty detail using the Holland Codes at the U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored O*Net site. If I get extensive job preparation, my “best fit” seems to be in post-secondary education of anything from art, drama and music to literature to environmental science, or, if that doesn’t work out, a naturopathic physician or neuropsychologist (I’m sure there’s a connection there, it’s just not at all obvious). Below that, among the “great fits,” are park naturalist, middle school teacher, interpreter, and makeup artist. I suppose it’s somewhat comforting that there are no careers that match my “interest profile” that involve little or no preparation, thereby validating my decision to go to college.

Something else I noticed at the O*Net site (which really is a terrible name, since it makes me think of either orgasms or Oprah, neither of which I think relate directly to job hunting, or at least they don’t for me), is that it somehow honed in on the fact that I should be teaching something artistic rather than actually doing it. This made me look back at the Rogue Community College site, where, sure enough, I saw that everyone who is supposed to be an artist other than a writer — actor, dancer and choreographer, graphic designer, multi-media artist, producer and director — is an AES.  In other words, what I lack is the E(nterprising) part. Sure enough, every time I took the Holland test, Enterprising ranked dead last (except for once when Realistic beat it on its race to the bottom by one point). This does ring true, unfortunately, since, as I said in another recent post, I do not enjoy the selling bullshit aspect of the film business. I’ve worked hard to not suck at it, but I don’t think I’ll ever excel at it, or like it, and as it turns out, this is the thing that’s going to prevent me from being a successful artist. Yay.

Of course, here’s the thing about these tests. When I read the overall descriptions of any of these personality categories, I think, “Oh, yes, sure, that does sound like me…sometimes.” It’s like a horoscope, where when you read it, you think, “Oh yeah, that is so me!”, and then you realize you were reading the wrong one by mistake, and you read the right one, and you think, “Oh yes, I can really see how this one applies to me!” — mostly because it’s telling you good stuff about your future that you want to believe.

Speaking of astrology, and Oprah, there is another type of information you can turn to if you’re trying to figure out who you are and what to do with your life, so I decided to go there and read up about self-actualization. Self-actualization is a concept attributed to psychologist Abraham Maslow, who described it as, “the full realization of one’s potential, of one’s ‘true self.’” This translates, in many circles, to finding one’s “higher self,” which gets into spiritual or divine enlightenment, as in, “the self creates its own reality when in union with the higher self,” or, “In exercising your relationship with your higher self, you will gain the ability to manifest your desired future before you.”  Well, who doesn’t want to do that?  I suppose this is why one Amazon review of Deepak Chopra’s book, The Higher Self, says, “Bought this for my wife.  She loves it. Listens to it all the time.  When my wife is happy, I’m happy.  Something about energy and we are all related because we all share energy and air…”  In other words, it sounds good even if it doesn’t make sense.

The Huffington Post has an entire page devoted to “Self-Actualization News."  Here are some of the headlines:

Do You Have Unconditional Love?
How to Let Go of Anger and Do Deep Emotional Work
What Is the True Meaning of Inspiration?
What Makes Some People "Lucky”?
Want To Become the Best Version Of Yourself? 4 Steps
On Rebirth
Rosh Hashanah And The Lord Of The Rings
Soul-Talk: Are You Self Actualizing Or Just Self-Conceptualizing?
The Life Out Loud: Making New Dreams A Reality
8 Ways To Become A Positive Thinker

These pieces are written by people with names like Roya R. Rad and R. Kay Green, who writes, “At the final point, see who you are. Really see it. When you have seen it, adopt an attitude that you’re not afraid to go against the grain.  Stop adapting the society and start being you.”  If she’s really accepted herself, why is her first name an initial?

Yeah, okay, in the end, I couldn’t go there, especially when getting a reading from someone at the Chopra Center costs $275 an hour.

Look, the idea behind self-actualization is good. One of the things about getting older is that you’re supposed to finally know and get comfortable with who you really are. But on the days when I think I’m introverted and judgy, am I just feeling tired and lame?  If I have more of those days now than I did when I was younger, is that because I’m becoming more me, or because I’m becoming older, otherwise known as more crotchety and hormonal and physically less able to abuse myself, and less interested in hiding any of that?  At those times when I feel like perceiving and feeling and interacting with the world at large, is it only because I’ve had just the right number of martinis?  In short, is saying “I guess I’m just like this” self-acceptance of the truest part of my nature, for better or for worse, or is it giving up? Or is it a little bit of both?

And here’s something else I’ve started to wonder about: do I even know what I like to do? Because the O*Net test asks what you would like to do “regardless of whether or not you have the skill set to do it,” causing me to rethink activities like “Playing an instrument.” Based on my two years of piano and one week of violin, playing an instrument is not something that I am good at, and it’s not something that I enjoyed — but that’s really because I wasn’t good at it. I like the idea of making music, the only problem is that my experience of playing it was never actually making music, it was basically making noise. Is there a musician inside me desperately trying to get out, only to be held back by my lack of fine motor skills and general tunelessness? O*Net also asks if I like “Doing Experiments” and “Solving Math Problems.” That’s complicated too.  In grade school, I loved catching lizards and other creepy crawly things and studying them — I practically wrote a novel in my 4th grade workbook about the lifecycle of crickets and salamanders and frogs. By the time I got to college, though, I was a committed “fuzzy”: I liked the arts, and literature, and history, and never really considered doing anything on the “techy” side. I always thought the reason was that I wasn’t into the math and scientific memorization involved in being a scientist. But I was never bad at math and science. In fact, when I took algebra in junior high, I was teased as “Miss 102” because I got extra credit on all of my tests. At some point around then, however, even though I still was getting good grades in geometry and trig and calculus, I decided that math wasn’t for me — and that helped me make decisions about who I was and who I would grow up to be.  But what were those decisions, made in junior high of all places, really about? Was it that I didn’t find solving equations fulfilling, because on some level, I certainly did. Or was it more that I didn’t want to be the kind of geek who liked math, like my peers in the "Gifted and Talented” program at my school, who were practically all boys — and the few girls who were in the program weren’t in there because they were good at math, they were readers, writers and artists. In that context, why would I want to be Miss 102? There was really no place for her.

Yes, the more I keep digging for answers, the deeper this question hole seems to be getting.  And I have to start wrapping this thing up now because I have to work tomorrow, which is Friday, and currently 23 minutes away. So… I said in my first post on this blog that at 30, I thought I really knew myself, but then I was wrong about that, and wrong again, and wrong again. Well, I’m beginning to think that at some point, around 40ish, you plateau in the “knowing thyself” department, and after that, the process of getting older becomes the process of getting over the idea that you ever truly will. It seems like when you realize how much you continue to change the older you get, you also start to challenge your assumptions more and more about who you were in the first place. So you can continue to look — to the MBTI, to the RIASEC, to star signs, Deepak Chopra and Roya R. Rad — for certainty, for prediction, for ways to make the world make more sense, or you can accept the fact that your brain and your eyes and your hands and all the rest of your personal equipment’s going to keep changing, as is the world around you, and so you’re always going to have more to learn. Life is a process, and the only end is death, so what’s the point of being in a rush to reach the finish line?  I mean, if it did finally all make sense, wouldn’t that be so, so boring?    

There’s this line on the page about the Holland Codes under “Validity.”  It says, “The Holland Codes are used extensively in life counseling. Like all personality tests, though, the codes are only a guide.  The test cannot reveal any hidden information about you and if you think the results are wrong, they most likely are.”

So there you have it.  Plus, yesterday I took that Facebook “What Career Should I Actually Have?” test and it told me I should be a writer.

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