“This above all: to thine own self be true”
— Polonius, from Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Shakespeare gives good advice, but how can you be true to yourself if you don’t know yourself?
You would think it would be easy to know ourselves; after all, we are around ourselves all the time. Yet paradoxically, nothing is more difficult. We are too close to ourselves to see objectively
Fortunately we can get help in discovering who we are, our strengths and weaknesses, our talents and tendencies. We can look to our own experiences first, then to various inventories and tests, and finally to what others have told us about ourselves (good and bad). These three directions of input will help us know ourselves better.
Look back at your life from childhood to now. Have you been someone who others are naturally attracted to? Did you always rise to be the team captain or leader? Did you enjoy doing that?
Were you someone who sought out the outcasts and loners? Did you prefer to be left alone and do your own thing?
Are you the life of the party or someone who only feels comfortable with people you know really well? Can you learn quickly and solve problems without much difficulty, or do you have to methodically plod along exploring different routes until you understand the concepts? Neither one is better than the other, even if it may feel that way. What’s important here is doing some introspection to think about the big arcs in your personality.
Some foundational part of you is baked into your genetic code and soul, but you have built upon that foundation in unique ways based on your environment and free will. We will call that foundational part your temperament and perhaps your talents in addition. But your personality is the sum total of your experiences and choices, your virtues and your faults as well. While you may tend toward fading into the background because your temperament is introverted, you may have chosen and learned to make yourself step out sometimes.
Keep your experiences in mind as you go through the next two sections; they will help to confirm or filter your discoveries about yourself.
Lots of people have come up with lots of metrics for trying to help you figure out who you are. That’s a good thing! And it’s fun to take tests and see what they say. For these inventories, consider that one may strike a chord with you more than another. Each measures slightly different things, so each can be valuable.
The Greeks came up with the idea that people had four different humours that affected their personality. These four temperaments are melancholic, phlegmatic, sanguine, and choleric. People are usually a mix of two of them. For instance: Sanguine is the extraverted people-person; Choleric is the goal-oriented leader; Melancholic is the principled thinker. Phlegmatic is the intraverted, peace-making friend.
This is the God-given or baked in portion of your personality, the fundamental way that you are disposed to respond to situations and people. It is not something that compels you to act in a certain way. Rather it is the tendency you have to respond to situations in particular ways.
Many online tests for the four temperaments exist. For Christians, a good book that weaves theology with the temperaments (and includes a temperament test), is The Temperament God Gave You.
Studying the four temperaments and finding out which ones you are can help improve your relationships. You may see that your spouse’s temperament is introverted–even if they have learned to be quite social–while yours is extroverted. They need to recharge by being alone or quiet, while you thrive on being in social gatherings.
A talent is an ability you are born with. Whether you believe it came from God or from chance, you have talents that you excel at and are better at naturally than others. If you hone those talents, working on them and improving them even more, they become strengths.
Now, Discover Your Strengths is a popular business book that also includes a test to discover your top strengths. For example, are you a Relator who naturally can relate to other people and connect with them? Perhaps you have the strength of Command and gravitate toward leadership positions because of it. Maybe you prefer to hear what others have to say, to learn from them rather than just going with your own decision about how to do something, because you have the strength of Input.
One idea with your strengths is that you focus on making them even stronger rather than trying to bring your non-strengths up to a higher level. The belief is that your weaknesses will never be able to match the level of your strengths, so work on what you can excel at instead of just trying to shore up things you are not talented at in the first place.
DiSC and Myers-Briggs
The DiSC categorization is another attempt to help people understand who they are and how they interact with others. Myers-Briggs is another popular one. These inventories are often used by schools and companies to help people discover what work or studies they might be good at, what roles they fit into, and so on.
Having done all these inventories, I’ve found the temperament test and strengths finder inventory to be the most helpful. However, your mileage may vary, so try them all and see what resonates most with you.
Those closest to us usually see us most accurately. Think about times when people have told you what you are good at. Maybe your favorite teacher said something to you in third grade. Maybe your mother or aunt did. Or maybe, and this makes it easier, all of them said the same thing to you.
We have a tendency to disavow compliments, waving them away through modesty, whether real or false. Avoid that temptation and instead honestly listen to what someone says when they compliment you on some aspect of your personality or work. “Wow, you are really good at seeing to the root of problems.” Or, “you build people up and connect them together effortlessly.” These are powerful insights into your personality that you should listen to.
Of course, the flip side also exists: when we are criticized by others we should consider what they say. Perhaps they hate us and are simply trying to hurt us. In that case, even if what they say is true, it is not worth taking as gospel. However, what if the words are said by a friend or trusted associate? In that case, the criticism may very well be constructive, and we should reflect on it.
Everyone has room to grow, makes mistakes, or even does things that are wrong. But those failings do not define us; they are examples of us needing to grow in maturity (virtue) to make use of our gifts, talents, and strengths–the very ones that we are discovering through these various means.
The First Leg on the Journey
No test or inventory can tell you everything about yourself. These ideas merely help you take the first step toward self-discovery. We are complex creatures full of contradictions, facets, and hidden aspects.
Similarly, while others may have valuable insights about you to share, they cannot get inside your heart and truly know what makes you tick. So use all three strategies and triangulate to find the true center point within yourself. As we move forward with launching your career, these things you have discovered about yourself will help inform the choices you make, the jobs and roles you will be best at, and the way you can maximize your strengths in any situation.
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