Myers-Briggs and the Zodiac

Among the funniest LinkedIn designations I’ve seen on people’s names, the “INTJ” guy probably tops that list. For one, that’s not even a certification. And secondly, I haven’t heard of any half-serious company these days that considers applicants based on behavioral test results.

The good news is that most people now recognize intelligence and personalities as intangible ideas, which leave these quizzes mostly in the realm of online forums. It’s a good place to be for some casual and trivial entertainment, but I think the issue becomes much more troubling once we start to categorically define people through the likes of Myers-Briggs.

In a similar way how a fortune-teller can prime us to see a certain life event as either a negative or a positive, personality quizzes are a self-fulfilling prophecy that governs how we should think and interact. By buying into whatever stereotypes we fit into, we give up some control of our lives.

When I first moved to Canada, my mom was surprised to see that I was a “quiet kid” on my report card. Looking back now, I can say that this was almost entirely attributable to me being in a new country trying to speak a language I didn’t understand. And as I got older and started business school, I realized that I would need to develop myself to have any chance of success. So I started speaking out more while constantly embarrassing myself.

Halloween in Taiwan, around Grade 2/3

I still have ways to go, but I’m convinced that our behaviors are much more fluid than we’d like to believe. We all have the mental capacity to behave differently depending on the circumstances of our environment. As prosaic as it sounds, the challenge for us is to look past the solace in being able to explain away our insecurities and be on the lookout for things that make us better.

Trying to build off of this, I started thinking more about how the developments in my life led me to who I am. If moving to Canada was the first major catalyst, the second one would be growing up in a moderately wealthy family. My parents do a good job of grounding me, but I have an advantage in life that many people (and certainly most outside of North America) could only dream of.

Beyond the freedom to play any instruments or sports, my personality was also immeasurably impacted by this beginning (or as we would say in gaming, accelerated progression). Two things that stood out to me were my risk-averseness and my unmaterialistic attitude.

Playing chess with my brother

I was practicing interview questions with a friend awhile back and we came across one which asks “what is the greatest risk you’ve taken”. It was easy for her, but I blanked out. I babbled on about how I moved between four cities in a span of two years, but I knew myself that it was hardly a risk. Relevant work experience at my age would trump any “risks” of being temporarily away from home.

To weave in a chess analogy, it’s not a sacrifice if you can see a checkmate in 2 moves. The risks are only real when you give up something in return for an indirect advantage that may or may not even materialize in the end. And at that, I was terrible. When your backup plan is to take over the family business and live comfortably, the motivation to drive forward can be fleeting.

The other difference I noticed about myself is my unmaterialistic outlook. The pursuit of wealth is inherently materialistic, but growing up with it is sort of a different story. There are two lenses to see this in, and I think both have equally shaped my life.

Family photo taken a few years back

From a positive side, it’s straightforward for me to disregard material ownership as an indicator of someone’s character because I grew up more or less indifferent to what I had. By not placing a value on my own things, I don’t see anyone else’s any differently. This in turn helps me focus more on myself and my interactions with others as the basis of all relationships.

On the opposite end, this perspective also meant that I can be very wasteful. As my girlfriend or roommate would tell you, I leave unfinished food on the table, lights and heater on when I step out of the house, and buy things spontaneously that I would barely use. I don’t do it on purpose, but I find it to be an active decision to remind myself that this is something I need to do.

When it comes to nature vs. nurture, my experiences skew heavily towards the latter.


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