When I was about four years old, my mom lost me in a department store. She was shopping with just my brother (who was in a stroller) and I, and she let go of my hand for one second, and I was gone. Who knows what distracted me, or what prompted me to leave the safety and security of my mom’s watchful eye. But whatever it was, off I went to investigate, blissfully unaware of the magnitude of my action. I don’t know how long it was before my mom realized that I was gone – probably just minutes – but, as what I can only imagine was sheer terror setting in, she heard an announcement over the PA; “Mrs. Peters to the Information Booth please, Mrs. Nancy Peters.”
When she arrived at the Information Booth, there I was, sitting on a chair, legs swinging cheerfully, with a lollipop-filled smile, “Oh, HI Mommy!”
My mom loves to tell this story. Not as a cautionary tale about losing her kid in a big department store, but as a funny anecdote about me. Apparently, when she came to collect me from “danger,” the nice Information Booth employee said that I had told her my full name (including my middle name), my address, my phone number, and my parents’ names (other than Mommy and Daddy). I probably told her my brother’s and sisters’ names too, and my favourite book at the time and whatever else was on my mind. The point is that I was completely at ease, chatting up a storm with a stranger, not worried at all that my mom wouldn’t come get me, evidently ignorant of the fact that I was indeed, lost. I wasn’t scared or nervous, I wasn’t shy with the person who was trying to help me, I wasn’t crying, and I didn’t leap into my mother’s arms with relief when I laid my eyes on her. I was the most laid back four year old my mom had ever encountered.
Me at about four years old:
Personality is innate. Sure, our experiences, upbringing, culture, birth order, and a host of other external things help inform and influence the development of our personalities, but at the core of us, when you look at our most true and basic instincts, our personality is innate. And it doesn’t really change over time. Who I was when I was four, is essentially who I am today. That’s not to say that our behaviour doesn’t change with age and/or experience, or because we’re surrounded by people who influence us in certain ways, or our work demands it of us. But, that’s behavior, which is not the same thing as personality. The distinction is important.
I am fascinated by the study of personality. I’ve read all about various theories and studies and tests; True Colors, Facet5, Myers-Briggs, and even Love Languages (while that’s technically not about personality, per se, it’s in the same wheel house for my purposes here). The general principle of these tests is that there are basic categories of personality traits that all people are made up of. The majority of people display a distinct dominant category of traits, and perhaps a secondary category which is pretty close (in terms of score) to the dominant. And then the others sort of just fall in place kind of on a sliding scale. The terms Introvert and Extrovert, for example, come from the Myers-Briggs theory. The very idea of someone being “outgoing” or “shy,” while wildly dichotomous, is borne of these principles.
I think the reason I find all of this so fascinating is that it rings SO TRUE. The more I read about the study of personality, and talk to people (like my sister who is an Employment Counsellor and is therefore deeply acquainted with all of this even more than I am because it’s so linked to the work she does. Similarly, my best friend who is in HR, has a deep understanding of all of these things because of her work. So, you can imagine the conversations that get generated with these two lovely ladies in my life), the more my interest is piqued. And, the more apparent it becomes that I am a bit of a loner in my own life.
What the hell does that mean, Ange? Well, what I mean is that I am the different one in my life. I’m The Outlier, the one who thinks and operates just a little (sometimes a LOT) differently than the family and friends and colleagues I’m surrounded by.
Let’s take True Colors, for example. Orange is my dominant color, which means, generally speaking, that I am outgoing. I am social, talkative, expressive, I think “outside the box,” I’m interested in big concepts and talking about ideas. I tend to get excited about things, I act on intuition, I’m very passionate and I often take the lead. I am completely comfortable with public speaking and performing (actually, I kind of thrive on it!), I’m really flexible and laid back, I take risks and I don’t particularly like rules. It also means that I have a hard time focusing on things sometimes, I have a tendency to not follow through on things, I don’t like being mired in details and I fall into ruts easily. I can be messy, disorganized, fail to plan well, don’t always make good, responsible decisions, and I’m a champion procrastinator. I’m impulsive and impetuous, irresponsible even (i.e. not so great with money) and I can be really opinionated about certain things.
I believe that every member of my immediate family (we’re talking about five other people here), are predominantly Gold. Golds make lists and love details. They are extremely organized, traditional, like order and routine, thrive on making plans. They are very responsible, risk-averse, dependable, punctual, take time (sometimes a LOT of time) to make decisions, and like everything to be just so. Every year, for as long as I can remember, my dad not only actually creates a Christmas Holiday Menu, but he laminates it (yes, he owns and often uses a laminator) and puts it on the fridge. We tease him relentlessly about it, but we all secretly love it, think it’s adorable, and just SO “dad.” He does this because he likes to, but also, and more importantly, he is impelled to. It’s his Gold showing.
You can see where the inherent fissure in my life emerges. I shared a room for most of my childhood with one of my sisters (the GOLDEST of the Golds), and you can imagine how tricky (and at times, painful) that was for both of us. Her side of the room was always “spic and span” clean, her bed was made every day, everything was in its place, not a scrap of stray clothing or anything else was where it didn’t belong. My side? Not so much. I don’t think I ever made my bed. I had clothes all over the floor and everywhere else, I usually had (and still have) two or three books on the go, and of course, a journal that I was constantly misplacing. She used to get so frustrated with me about my side of the room, for lots of reasons, but the biggest one was that from the bottom of the stairs, it was my side that was visible when the door was open. Needless to say, she kept the door closed a lot.
When I decided to move to Toronto, it was definitely an impulsive decision. I had landed a job, but had no place to live and really only knew one person in the city. I didn’t really have much of a plan, but I was sure, to the depths of my being, that this was the right move, that it would change my life, and that I would be happier. I remember talking to my Dad about it (before I had actually gotten the job offer, so at this point it was just an idea, albeit, an idea I was settled on), and he said, verbatim “Ange, I don’t think this is a good idea. It’s a really big risk, and I don’t think you should do it.” It was, by the way, the best decision I’ve ever made. But you can imagine how that conversation resonated with me at the time. I just didn’t understand why my Dad didn’t get why I just HAD to do this! It was so clear to me!
My fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants life philosophy has not always been appreciated, or more to the point, understood by my family. My friends are a bit more diverse in terms of their spectrum of personality (which makes sense – I chose them, I was drawn to them in the first place, right?!), but my best friend, my BFF since we were eight years old, my true and constant, can’t-remember-my-life-without-her bestie, has quite a different personality than me. And that’s, of course, why we complement each other so well! But, I’m sure there have been times in our lives when she has seriously questioned my sanity. I’m sure she’s also been grateful that we’ve never lived nor worked together. It’s probably saved our friendship, to be honest.
My difference is even more pronounced at work. Certainly, because of the work I do, there are particular behaviours that I’ve adopted over the years that are counter to my innate personality. But at the core, when it comes to how I actually operate and perceive and interpret and understand things, I am, again, The Outlier. We did a Facet5 workshop as a team building activity, and it came as no surprise to me that I am totally different from the rest of my team. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing! I think I bring a lot to the team, and my perspective is, for the most part, appreciated, but I struggle with it sometimes because I’m the only one like me. I often feel like no one understands me at all. Like I’m speaking a different language, like the things that come so naturally to me, and are my inherent preference in terms of work style (being flexible, going with the flow, talking about the high level concepts and collaborating in order to get excited about a project and generate creative ideas together) are lost on my teammates. Maybe that’s not true. My ways are not necessarily lost on them, but rather, it’s a stretch for them to get on the same page as me sometimes. So, I find I’m always getting on their page. It’s easier for me, I’m the flexible one, remember?!
My desk is a mess, I have papers and books stacked all around me (strategically, in my mind), dust collecting everywhere. I have sticky notes with reminders about this or that all over the place, I have lists (yes, I make lists too!), but I frequently lose them and/or forget about them. I struggle with time management, I hardly ever remember to change my daily voicemail message and I often have to take little breaks throughout the day to talk to people and socialize, otherwise I start to feel a little bit like I want to crawl out of my skin. Not every day though! Some days I’m perfectly content to listen to music all day, not say a word to anyone and just work away, in my little Ange-bubble. I’m an enigma, I know. Sigh.
What is the point of me telling you all this? Stay with me, here. My point is that although I may be The Outlier, an Orange in a sea of Gold, I have to say that knowing about these theories has truly enlightened me. I find that the more I understand myself, my innate personality (and the traits and tendencies that go along with it), the more open and accepting I am about the people around me. I consider myself a very self-aware person, and I constantly strive to be better. I also find that with this knowledge, I’m more cognizant of my comfort zone and can more easily recognize when I should step outside of it. It helps me to understand other people’s motivations and points of view, to the point where, even if someone is being really nasty to me, or is frustratingly rigid, for example, I can’t help but empathize with where they’re coming from. They’re probably a Gold-Green, and they just don’t get me, ya know??
I used to say that I found it really hard to talk to my parents, that they just couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give me what I needed emotionally. Before I had the vocabulary at my fingertips, I remember explaining it to my sister that it was as if we spoke different languages. Can you imagine the motherload of epiphanies I had when I read Gary Chapman’s book? It turns out my parents and I actually DO have different Love Languages! We really were speaking different languages. As soon as I was armed with that knowledge, my relationship with my parents did a proverbial “180,” and I now know how to accept the love they give me, in their language. It’s truly remarkable.
I’m telling you, if you strive for self-awareness, hop on this train with me! Look up these theories, take the tests, read the books, and talk to your people about it! I’m not usually one for hyperbole (well, maybe I am, actually), but I promise you, it will change your life. Since absorbing this knowledge into my psyche, I actually do have a different, and I would argue, better understanding of myself and the world and people around me.
And, as it turns out, it isn’t that hard being Orange after all.