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Wednesday Wisdom: Don’t Categorize Yourself

Starting at the tender age of 11, I began the early adolescent, melodramatic, self-proclaimed quest of “finding myself.” At a time when dial-up AOL Internet was poppin’, I discovered Blogthings, a personality test site. Naïve to the fact that this site probably had no validity whatsoever, and already experiencing the early signs of teen angst, I was sucked in by quizzes like “What’s Your Name’s Hidden Meaning?” and “Where Will You Meet Your True Love?” After every result, all I could think was “OMG, like, this test totally gets me,” and it felt great to uncover more and more of my personality traits. Not to mention after learning from a quiz that I would meet my true love at a party, it seemed that my love life suddenly became a whole lot simpler.

As I grew older and became more mature (well, at least that’s what I like to think), I discovered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test with quite the classy name. This is where my perplexing addiction to personality tests really began. Not only did I love labeling myself with traits like “passionate” and “idealistic,” but I got a weird kick out of trying to label my friends and even people I hardly knew as personality types. With this test, I suddenly had the key to “understanding” anyone around me, which made me feel pretty all-knowing and powerful.

But, finally and thankfully, it occurred to me that not only was personality-typing of other people extremely judgmental, but also that labeling myself was equally inhibiting and damaging.

You’ve probably heard in every psychology class you’ve ever taken that our brains love putting things into categories to make sense of the world. It just makes things easier to process when we have neat little filing cabinets in our minds. But, we can also step outside of that process and see how restricting it is. When we passively categorize people, we get sucked into stereotyping, judging and assuming, and we do this when we label on ourselves, too. When you place yourself into a category, you attach yourself to being and acting a certain way, and you limit your potential and opportunities to seize what’s right in front of you. You might attach yourself to traits like “insecure,” “lazy,” “anxious,” etc., and you reject opportunities because of them. You tell yourself you can’t do things because you assume you might fail, or you think, “That’s not who I am.” In return, you make a rigid comfort zone for yourself that you’re too stubborn to escape from, all because it’s easier to accept these traits than to try to fight them away.

If you score “introverted,” you can come up with excuses on excuses for staying back home while your friends go out and have the times of their lives, all because you’re nervous you’ll be too shy. If you’re an INFP (“The Mediator”), but you think your crush is an ESTJ (“The Executive”), then you may assume your romantic destiny is doomed without even getting to know the guy. If you get nervous and anxious, you can constantly make reasons for why not to speak out in front of people over what really matters to you.

But if you could let these results go and just be, from moment-to-moment, with acceptance and without judgment of yourself and of others, then you give yourself the freedom to live in whatever experiences you want. And shouldn’t you be gathering memories more than you gather “character traits”?

So instead, let go of the labels and external validation. As long as you see your potential and how far you’ve come, then you don’t need a test to tell you anything. Personality tests are fun, but take the results with a grain of salt. The qualities that you like — flaunt ‘em! And the ones you know you can sink into — don’t let them stop you from doing the things you know you want to do. And get to know yourself and others with the intention of learning how people actually are, rather than what they appear as. (We have social media for that!)

So climb out of your ego, and dive into the heart of what really matters and the experiences you want to make for yourself. Those will say more about you than any test ever could.

Photo credits: crisarcangeli.com

Tori Rubloff is a National Feature Writer and News Blogger. She is a senior at the University of Florida, and will be pursuing a Master’s in Mass Communication next fall. Her dream is to work in the journalism and writing fields to make positive social change and spread big ideas. She enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, journaling and jamming out to old school R&B.
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