Born This Way

By Kate Wallin

No, this is not another post shot into the blogosphere about Lady Gaga or equal rights – although if you want to have those conversations, lets talk. No, this is about something much more personal: you.

Its common for today’s college student to encounter a lot of the language and techniques of personal growth when moving onto the college scene. Every club and activity, every leadership position, every risk and experience includes some form of the question, “Who am I, and how do I live in this world?” And a lot of us have been taught to find the answers, or at least the starting line, through the varied and wide world of personality tests.

The problem is, though, we’re often left with just one test, one book, or one way of seeing ourselves through the lens of one test. Are there other tests, other voices we should consider? Here’s just a few of the leading inventories, how they can help and where you can find them:

Myers Briggs’ Personality Types

The most common of the “personality inventories”, the Myers Briggs type indicator or MBTI, is a questionnaire designed by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers and based upon the work of the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. The test measures “psychological preference” and determines how we perceive the world and make decisions. While more simple – with just 16 different available types – the MBTI helps to outline our natural preferences in sensing, feeling, thinking or intuition. Some argue that its simplicity is a detractor, but many have found the MBTI to be helpful in discovering how we function and live in relation to others and the world around us.

The test can usually be taken through your college or university’s Career Development Center, or online.

Gallup’s StrengthsFinders® & StrengthsQuest®

The website asks, “Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?” The questions hits upon the focus of this personality inventory: strengths. The fine people at Gallup spent years interviewing the top professionals in every field, from sports to politics, asking just what makes them good at what they do. They came out with over four hundred strengths, working to combine and synthesize their research down to 34 themes.

Based upon and drawing upon the work of Dr. Donald Clifton, the StrengthsFinders test allows you to identify your top 5 strengths and work on honing the things you are already naturally good at. The idea is that your natural talents, not your weakness, are what deserve your focus in any personal growth efforts (in this, Gallup only reveals your top 5 strengths, leaving the other 29 themes undisclosed). It promises to change the way you look at yourself – and the world around you – forever.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is another, lesser known, but highly useful personality inventory. From the Greek words “ennea” meaning nine and “gramma” meaning drawing, the Enneagram is a typology that explores nine interconnected personality types. While not used in academic psychology, the Enneagram is widely used in both the business world and for spiritual purposes. The ancient idea of the “drawing” of the Enneagram – thought to date back to the 4th century – helps to show the interconnectedness of personalities and how relationships will form based on each individual personality type. Furthermore, the Enneagram breaks down each of the nine types into two circuits – healthy and unhealthy – demonstrating the characteristics, goals, desires, and temperaments of each type when they are in good or poor states of wellbeing.

To be honest, the Enneagram is this writer’s favorite of the three for this very reason. We as people are healthy and unhealthy at various points and seasons in our lives. C.S. Lewis calls this the “Law of Undulation”, that the human life experiences highs (or “peaks”) and lows (or “troughs”) that affect our inner and outer lives. The Enneagram is one of few personality inventories that addresses this phenomenon and outlines the ways in which we fear, react and ultimately overcome. You can find resources online or check out the beloved Franciscan friar Richard Rohr’s book The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective.

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