Control Your Destiny: Why Your Investment in Personal Understanding Could Be Holding You Back

It happened a few months ago, and it started off like any other date. He picked me up. We went to dinner. We saw a movie. We enjoyed each other’s company. We even decided to take a walk afterwards. But then he asked my zodiac sign. It wasn’t a question I was used to, but I told him I was a Virgo without much serious consideration. But his attitude shifted right away, revealing to me that he was a Sagittarius, one of the “least compatible” with a Virgo. I laughed and told him I didn’t believe the chemistry between people, or the ability to build a relationship was written in the stars the way some people seemed to. He let out a subtle, distracted chuckle and came back with another question regarding my Myers-Briggs personality test results. I told him I’d never taken the test. His pace slowed with his growing concern. Apparently a huge part of how he determined compatibility with someone, because heaven forbid you take the time to get to know them, was through personality test results and zodiac sign alignment. At that point the date was over.

I have never been a fan of anything having to do with astrology, personality tests, and whatever other means there are to predetermining and/or influencing aspects of anyone’s future. And while I’ve humored some people regarding horoscopes, I can honestly say that I have never taken a personality test. I have a number of friends who, similarly to “Mr. Compatibility,” seem to read into them too deeply and excessively base their perceptions of themselves and others on personality test results, which doesn’t seem healthy to me. I don’t like the idea of any external source, especially something as impersonal and generalized as a personality test, filling my head with ideas of who I am and allowing those ideas to influence my future. Things like that should be up to me. And being told by some personality test like the Myers-Briggs that I will carry certain traits like tastes and expectations with me for the duration of my life, and that I’ll never stray from them seems limiting. Pushing people to believe they are one of 16 personality types and combinations, as the Myers-Briggs does, and that they’re never going to change or evolve through time is ludicrous. People change all the time. They learn, grow and better themselves. But what if someone wants to be better in some area of their life, but doesn’t believe they can because certain tests have taught them that personal sameness is their unavoidable destiny?  

It was made pretty clear by my jarring date night that things' like zodiac signs and personality test results can have affects beyond personal perceptions. Personality test results are a quick, easy, and, quite frankly, lazy way to assess someone else’s character. In the past The Washington Post’s Lily Garcia has reported on her feelings regarding some employers’ demands that their employees and new hires take personality tests for “team-building purposes.” In 2010 she expressed her fears of being defined by a label and being turned down for certain projects because of some perceived incompatibility with the team or expected tasks. She also talked about confidentiality and the employers’ violating attempt to tap into the physiological intimacies personality tests try to reveal. Garcia didn’t feel that the results would be treated respectfully and didn’t trust the general workplace to properly use discretion regarding the information’s disclosure. And she’s right. Some in-depth personality tests work to bring forth very personal information and sides to an individual that may not be professionally relevant, and which could be inappropriate and unnecessary to contribute to a work environment, yet companies have demanded them in an effort to “facilitate understanding of diverse personality types and lead to more collaborative working relationships.”

Maybe it seems silly to think that people could be so loosely subjected to shallow and limited outlooks like those shown in my A+ date and some modern employers. But personality test results, zodiacs, horoscopes, and all else related, do play roles in perception, which may not always be a good thing. While they can be fun and seemingly informative, I think they can be detrimentally inhibiting. When taken too seriously in things like personal perceptions and judgments of others, too much focus on external words of character can prevent someone from seeing the real potential in themselves and others. And, when extended beyond personal relationships, personality tests have the power to taint a professional environment by limiting experimentation and making people wary of their coworkers before they’ve been given a chance to show those around them that they are more than the results of a test.