I am always searching for a way to classify who I am. If there is a category to put myself into, I have attempted to do so. Over the years, in part because I am a psychologist but mostly because I am a person who is constantly doing self-searching, I have taken countless quizzes and assessments about my personality. In the journey to make sense of who I am, I have discovered that I am sensitive, I am bold, I am beauty, I am a visionary, I am a perfectionist… and I am both an introvert and an extrovert. I find this duality most perplexing – how is it that I am either an introvert or extrovert depending on the assessment? Can I be both or am I really one or the other and there is a problem with the measurement?
According to the Quiet quiz by Susan Cain, I am an introvert. However, she includes a description of an ambivert as someone who is able to tap into either pole as needed. If you answer half of the questions as an introvert and half as an extrovert, she explains, you are counted as an ambivert. Being the perfectionist I am (according to many assessments), I could not help but count how many questions in her quiz I answered as an introvert and an extrovert. The number was the same! I suspect that there must be some questions that when answered a certain way, swing the scale in one direction. Given the variation I have seen across other assessments of my style, I am clearly hovering between introversion and extroversion. I behave differently depending on the situational context.
So does the introvert-extrovert scale help me understand myself? Well, yes and no. One thing that it really does help me with is with how I treat myself when I make a decision. For instance, I tend to give myself a hard time for not wanting to go out and socialize. Apparently, that is not uncommon in introverts because society generally has a bias towards extroversion. In other words, we are made to feel wrong if we choose not to socialize or prefer a few one-on-one interactions.
What I also find puzzling is that I want to come out on the scale as an introvert! Why would that be the case given the cultural bias towards extroversion? Well, for one thing, great thinkers and scholars are frequently introverts and I want to believe that I could be in their category. Shouldn’t I be happy that I can be so flexible? Instead I am a bit uncomfortable that I do not fit neatly into one category. Oh, it’s that perfectionist characteristic again telling me I am not quite normal if I don’t fit in. But as I think about this some more, I realize that I don’t really want to fit too neatly into anything. I am a complex individual as is everyone.
I do believe that we have certain traits or characteristics that seem pretty fixed, but I am coming to the opinion that no one can be truly classified into any category. That’s the wonder of our human capacity. We are an amalgamation of genetics and life experience and there are no two people who share that down to the exact details.
Take assessments as a tool to help appreciate who you are. Used wisely, they can reveal some aspects of yourself and provide reassurance that you are not alone. But don’t treat them as a judge of who you are. And don’t look to them to explain how you will react in any given future situation. For we are as imperfect as the tools are. And that is just perfectly human.