Sunday, June 1, 2008

The perils of self-knowledge

First of all, let me explain the use of the word "perils" in the post title. It's an arcane word, and clearly out of conventional usage. We'll most often see it in modern language used in an slightly ironic way, often with alliteration: "The perils of puppies," "Perambulator Perils," etc.

I use it here very specifically, rather than its near synonym, "danger." Why? Because "The danger of self-knowledge," implies future harm. If something is dangerous; you can avoid it or not. "Peril" is more about the activity itself, already undertaken.

And self-knowledge is like that. You can go into almost any situation and come back with self-knowledge. But by then, it's too damned late. You can't say, for example, "There's a danger of increased self=knowledge at this year's Thanksgiving dinner with my wife's family... I'll stay away." You go, no thought of peril, and you learn that your tolerance for various kinds of bad behavior has lessened since you all got together 10 years ago. You come away with new self knowledge. [Note: this is an erroneous, facile example -- I get along just swimmingly with my wife's family. Not that they read this blog, but if they do, they'll recognize the fiction; we never have Thanksgiving with them. So, ha.]

You just can't tell when a trip will turn into an adventure in discernment.

But sometimes you should.

About 12 years ago, my then-boss had our whole team take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). It was so we could learn about ourselves and each other and work together better. Those of you who have read my stuff before know that I have a low tolerance for corporate hoo-hah. Being told, "You're going to learn about yourself," makes me feel like a small child being led by the hand. I already understand myself very well, thank you. And if you don't think so, then clearly *you* don't know me very well. ;-)

So... The MBTI. I'm an ENTP, if you care. Which, in general, made sense to me at the time. Read the linked description, if you know me, and (I think) it's not too far off.

But... when you take the test, you get a score from"0" (meaning dead center between two of the paired functions) to "100" (meaning extremely one way). I was very near zero for the first three classifications. Which, when it came to splitting the difference between Sensing v. iNtuition and Thinking v. Feeling, I was fine. I like balance on those things, and would have been surprised to find a test that scored me much higher in either of those pairs.

But an "Extrovert" score of only 4? That's mad! I'm the f'in life of the party! I love public speaking and teaching. I have no fear of strangers and of approaching people I don't know for help, advice, directions, bottled water, sunscreen, etc. I like working on a team. All kinds of extroverty stuff. What's with the "4?" That's nearly balanced!

Well, come to find out, I'm a closet introvert. What the trainer we had (she was quite good) explained, is that for the MBTI, the categories are less about activity than attitude. From the Wikipedia definition:
People with a preference for Extraversion draw energy from action: they tend to act, then reflect, then act further. If they are inactive, their level of energy and motivation tends to decline. Conversely, those whose preference is Introversion become less energized as they act: they prefer to reflect, then act, then reflect again. People with Introversion preferences need time out to reflect in order to rebuild energy. The Introvert's flow is directed inward toward concepts and ideas and the Extravert's is directed outward towards people and objects.

Gulp. New self-knowledge came flowing in as the trainer explained this. I am introverted, in that sense, at many times. I like to reflect before acting. Sometimes several times. Sometimes to the point where it seems like procrastination, even to me. And that one line -- need time out to reflect in order to rebuild energy. Yikes! Totally me, totally on the spot.

So. Hmmm.... Yes. I went in skeptical, and came out having learned something about myself that has, ever since, been helpful to some degree, yet painful, too. Because self-knowledge doesn't necessarily imply actively working on anything based on that knowledge. Now, when I get funky and low after having spent too much time in "extrovert mode," I understand that it's my introverted need to reflect and recharge. I know, now, that I'm not an extrovert with periods of waning energy; I'm an introvert with occasional bursts of energy.

The point of all this being that I just took another one of these kinds of assessments at work. And I went in with a bit of the same attitude: "Yeah, it might be fun and/or interesting. Yeah, I'm sure it'll tell me some stuff I already know. But it'll be no big deal."

Indiana Jones would've known: there's always snakes in that cave.

I'm still processing what I learned. It took a couple of years after the MBTI for me to get comfy with the results. We'll see about this latest batch of understanding and maybe, later, I'll share the results.

But maybe I won't. As they say about ENTPs, "...less interested in generating and following through with detailed plans than in generating ideas and possibilities."

No comments:

Post a Comment