I’m a personality prototype – you can probably tell

I’m increasingly distrustful of personality profiling. I’m also suspicious of the ‘fixed versus growth mindset’ ideas, but the more I think about pigeonholing people into personality types, the more I think the growth mindset people like Matthew Syed are on to something.

I used to work as a studio manager in BBC radio, a kind of mixture between a sound engineer, psychotherapist and cat-herder. Despite being told almost on my first day at studio manager school that “the job is 5% technical, 95% getting on with people”, I ended up working in a department that was governed by the assessment of people against Myers-Briggs psychometric personality tests.

If you’re not familiar with Myers-Briggs, you get asked a load of questions and then are assigned a 4 letter code that apparently describes your personality against four different dichotomies: extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling and judging/perception. It’s slightly more subtle than the way people are divided in the Divergent YA novels and films, so beautifully mocked by Mark Kermode on Wittertainment. In that world you can only be one thing: selfless (abnegation), brave (dauntless, i.e. fresh out of drama school), clever (erudite, passed the 11 Plus / Oxbridge entrance exams) and so on. So let’s be kind, and say that Myers-Briggs is FOUR times more subtle than Veronica Roth’s novels.

In my old job, the prevailing management view was that to be a good studio manager you had to be a Myers-Briggs INTP. Anyone who diverged (see what I did there?) from this norm was regarded with suspicion. I was only mildly divergent myself, the T in INTP being my problem. Was I thinking or feeling. Every time I took the test I got a different answer: I thought I was thinking, but I felt I was feeling. I decided Myers-Briggs was hogwash, but kept quiet.

Such profiling was in the news again lately with some survey about finding the best place to live according to your personality type. I haven’t done the test, but it got me thinking about Myers-Briggs and what I was like 10 years ago and what I’m like now. I always used to think people generally stay the same, but since I left the BBC and retrained as a teacher, I think more than ever that people can change, and personality profiling is dangerous because it limits your options.

To teach is to perform. I never would have been able, for example, to address several hundred people in a packed funeral before training to be a teacher. I was, I believed, firmly introverted, from early childhood. As a boy, I wouldn’t say ‘boo’ to the proverbial goose – geese almost certainly being mates with swans, and anyone knows swans will have your arm off as soon as look at you. Extreme caution has brought me to my late 40s without ever breaking a bone. (I did badly sprain my ankle falling downstairs, quite an achievement in a single-story school, but that’s another story).

I also firmly used to believe that I liked and needed stability in my working environment. This limited my work options as I shied away from doing general supply teaching, as I genuinely thought I was the wrong personality type. A friend who does disaster relief work loves it, but I thought going into a different school every day, meeting new staff and children, never being sure of the routines or where the staff toilet was would be my worst nightmare. But it’s not. I love it. I wish I’d done it sooner, and the only reason I was held back was the four little INTP letters burnt into the back of my brain.

If you think you’re not going to like or succeed at something because of your personality – think (or feel, we’re all different at different times) again. Take the leap. You may love it. You may be good at it.

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