Slightly embarrassing confession: I’m a personality test junkie.
You’ll find me at cocktail parties saying witty things like, “ESTJ??? INFP!!!! Factfinder Quickstart, totally lacking in Follow Through, gosh I wish I had your Implementor! Yeah, absolutely no Woo, but tons of Intellection.”
I’M A GREAT TIME AT PARTIES, FRIENDS.
I love nothing more than to nerd out so hard about all the different lenses we can look through to understand ourselves and others. Some of my favorites are the Kolbe, MBTI, Fascination Index, and Strengthsfinder. (Yep, I was totally that geeky kid secretly taking all the quizzes in my mom’s Good Housekeeping magazine. Hey look, I’m a Daydreaming Debra!)
In the Queen Sweep group that’s going strong right now, we’ve been talking a lot about how our innate tendencies shape the way we get things done and move through the world.
So I’m particularly grateful to Gretchen Rubin for her simple, elegant, HOLY-WOW-ILLUMINATING model that she calls the “Four Tendencies.”
(You can go take the quiz right here; it’s free and quick and the rest of this essay will make more sense afterward!)
Understanding what makes them tick has been HUGE for my clients and Queen Sweepers. What motivates an Obliger, who thrives on social accountability, is totally different than what motives a Questioner, who needs to understand (and be on board with) the WHY of something. Upholders don’t need more instructions; they need permission to STOP doing. And Rebels are the bane of many coaches and teachers because it’s “oh so hard” to motivate them (ahem, only if you use traditional oppressive condescending teaching methods, but I’m getting ahead of myself).
Rubin’s model helped me understand why different tools and approaches in my programs got vastly different results for different people. (Oooooohhhh, that works for her because she’s an Upholder! And this exercise makes her crazy because she’s a Questioner!) As a coach and teacher, it’s often a challenge to frame things in a way that makes it work for all sorts of different people, and this framework has helped me immensely in that ongoing quest.
But you know what’s funny?
Even though it’s wildly helpful to know which tendency you are, it’s all to easy to get hunger up on the weaknesses of their type. My Obliger clients are often embarrassed that they will so often put others’ needs in front of their own. Questioners wish they could just move forward instead of analyzing everything for so long. Upholders feel dismayed by the weight of All The Things they feel they need to be doing All The Time. And Rebels…well, actually, Rebels are usually secretly proud to be Rebels.
(In case you were wondering, I’m a Rebel. My poor mother.)
But from my spot as Expedition Leader, Galvanizer In Chief, and Director of Motivation And Empowerment, I can see that each tendency has its own particular kind of GOLD. And the secret to unlocking it is to stop fighting it, and instead to accept it… and then AMPLIFY THE HELL out of it.
So today I’m writing a love letter to each one of you, whichever type you may be, to show you the value that I see in you.
You tell me you feel sheepish about being an obliger. One of my clients even wailed, “I’m just a sheep!” because she has such a hard time prioritizing her own needs ahead of the people around her. You sometimes think that it’s a kind of weakness that you need social accountability in order to get things done– if you were strong and amazing, wouldn’t you just get them done just because??? But dearheart, being an Obliger is an amazing thing!!! We NEED you!!! Without you, our world would descend into a chaotic jumble of disjointed factions elbowing each other, and no one would feed the children, and our world would feel stark and bleak and we’d all starve for lack of human kindness. Your bright loving life force is literally what keeps our world turning. You have no idea how much your loyalty, your cheerleading, your encouragement, your consistency, your empathy and compassion are a force for good in this world. You bind us all together and help us see how we’re connected. You are the friend who texts us to remind us to go on our weekly run…and so then we BOTH get to go! You are the employer who makes fair and generous policies that let us feed our families AND thrive as humans. You are love in action when we are hurting, lost, or we’ve fallen through the cracks. You are the reason we get to have thriving communities instead of living on barren, solitary islands. We literally couldn’t do this without you. Thank you for being you.
Everyone loves to make fun of you, because they’re secretly jealous that you get SO MUCH DONE. You wake up at 5am for your run AND do meaningful work AND you’re always on time AND you volunteer and give back to the community AND make homemade pies and to be honest you make the rest of us feel like total lazy loser slacker piles of compost. But what I know is how HEAVY this can all feel to you sometimes. How much it costs you to do All The Things. How tired you feel, how much you take on, how rigid and relentless the world can feel to you. I want you to give yourself more credit. You think that well of course you do all these things (and it’s baffling, often, that others don’t). But no matter how much you do, there’s always so much more to be done! Dearheart, I would give my eye teeth to get you to take your eyes off the “To Be Done” list for even a few minutes every day so you can bask in proud admiration of your “Already Did That, Boom I’m Such A Boss” list. Because your list? Honestly? IT’S AMAZING. Thank you for making so much shit happen. Our world runs because of you. You teach our kids, you run our companies, you make sure our bridges don’t fall down, you get out there and get things DONE instead of thinking and waiting and pondering. While the rest of us are waiting for inspiration, you already went ahead and did the thing and now? You’re inspiring us. You’re amazing. We literally couldn’t do this without you. Thank you for being you.
You, my dear, were probably that kid who got called “impertinent” and “stubborn” and “disruptive.” Sometimes even now that you’re an adult, people seem to think that you’re not a good team player or that you’re being deliberately difficult. But you? Dear wise wonderful one? You are just trying to get at the TRUTH. You’re not willing to let people waste their time or energy on things that are wrong, inefficient, or misguided. You want to understand WHY we do things, to make sure that we’re doing the RIGHT things instead of just blindly and sometimes harmfully doing what has always been done. THIS IS SUCH A GOOD THING. This quest for the inner logic of the workings of the world is behind every scientific advance we’ve ever had. Your refusal to accept flawed or fuzzy logic is very much to thank for most of the progress we’ve made in our civil and human rights movements throughout history. You’ve helped topple dictators, discredited harmful and flawed scientific ideas, exposed bias disguised as data, and led the fight against oppression veiled in feigned morality. We need you! We need you real bad, extra, in our world right now. We need you to keep asking why, to keep probing for the heart of things and press for better answers, even if everyone else around you shrugs and says, “Meh, I dunno, that’s just how we do things around here.” I love the way that you care not just about how things look, but about how they actually are, deep down. You’re so important. We literally could not do this without you. Thank you for being you.
Most of the discussions around you (and me) focus on how hard it is to make you do pretty much anything you don’t want to do. You drive bosses and teachers crazy, because you just don’t give a fig about their silly, arbitrary, crepe-paper rules. Some people seem to think that’s a bad thing, but that’s exactly why I love you so much, Rebel– because you cannot be manipulated. Do you know how important that is??? It’s huge!!! You can’t be guilted, coerced, pressured, or scared into doing things. This is a wildly precious thing that you bring to humanity. Yes, people fret that you won’t follow their rules, abide by their timelines, or adhere to their often-invisible social expectations. But that’s because you see how made-up and unfair most of them are. You’re looking for something deeper, something wilder. The only thing that compels you is something bigger than yourself: a cause, a passion, a beauty, a dream, a calling. And here’s what most people don’t know about you, your secret superpower: you will move MOUNTAINS out of sheer devotion. No one can make you do anything, but you will make awe-inspiring things happen when it’s for the right reasons. You will do anything– ANYTHING– for love. You are the beautiful force behind most of the art in our world, the revolutions, quantum leaps, paradigm shifts, spiritual epiphanies, and all the great movies and music. We literally could not do this without you. Thank you for being you.
And you, dear reader. Whichever one of these you are, I’m really glad that you’re you, with all your quirks and blocks and curiosities and urges and unique powers. We need all of us at the communal table if we’re going to be a vibrant diverse healthy version of humanity, just like we need all the different aspects of our own complicated selves at our own personal tables in order to be big, resilient, compassionate badasses.
(Oh and by the way, a tiny word. If you think that none of the four tendencies fit you, and this is a silly and incomplete dissection of a complex reality, I’ll tell you that of course you’re right– and also, dearheart, you’re probably a Questioner. Just consider it a highly useful fiction for the rest of us.)
Sometimes we work so hard to shore up our weaknesses and to get better at the things that don’t come naturally to us. That’s not a bad thing; if I hadn’t learned to Queen Sweep or set boundaries like a Secret Mystic, I’d just be a distracted wisp of a Daydreaming Debra oozing through my life.
However! Most of us could stand to focus more on working WITH what we have.
Dearheart, what you already have is GOLD.
You can go a long way when you enlist the parts of yourself that you take for granted. If you amplify the things that come naturally, and get really good at the things that already come easily, and you hone and practice and expand THOSE aspects of yourself, you’re working with your most incredible, rich, exponential potential.
Your inherent assets will always shine brighter, given the opportunity, than any weakness you try to shore up in yourself. So go ahead and own your own unique strengths, dearheart. Be proud. They’re yours. They’re necessary.
Nourish them, strengthen them, feed them, use them.
Because we literally could not do this without you.