Sunday, July 24, 2011

Putting the "I" in "INTP"

I am going to guess that of the four or five folks who actually read this blog (hey, that's up from two or three!), most of the handful have at least heard of the Myers-Briggs type inventory test, and have probably had to take it themselves once or twice in their respective lifetimes.  I'm no different, having taken the test yet again back in May as part of the battery of psychological testing required by my presbytery as part of my inquirer process, presumably to be sure that I'm in fact crazy enough to be doing what I'm doing.  The results of that test and others have been on my mind this weekend, for various reasons.

I think I've taken the Myers-Briggs at least six times in my life, at least four of which were required for jobs, school applications, or some other such major step.  As is not uncommon with the test when taken multiple times over multiple years, my results have varied.  In the four-letter code that expresses the results of the test, the final letter (P vs. J, perceiving vs. judging) has flipped fairly regularly.  I've usually been a T (thinking) but at least once came out an "F" (feeling).  I've always been an "N" (iNtuiting? I don't always remember this right) but it's always been a fairly close call vs. "S" (sensing?), very near the midpoint of the scale.

That leaves "I" vs. "E", introvert vs. extrovert. Here the results have always been conspicuously consistent; there isn't a Myers-Briggs grid that can contain the extent of my introverted nature.  Always completely off the charts.

Now let's be clear up-front; this is not a sign that I'm an anti-social person.  Not saying I'm not, but one doesn't necessarily equal the other. It does indicate that extroverted ways of interacting with others aren't necessarily best suited to my way of comprehending and coping with the world.

Some examples may work best, as opposed to my trying to describe stuff that's somewhat over my head. I go to baseball games whenever I can make it work, and I'm happy to go with someone, particularly if the someone is also a knowledgable baseball fan who can talk about the finer points of the game with ease.  I can also go with someone else who is less knowledgable, as long as they don't mind me explaining stuff.  But I'm also perfectly happy to go by myself, maybe get or take a scorecard, and get buried in the game without necessarily socializing a lot.  Focusing on the intricate details of the game is for me a highly fulfilling way of being at a game, and it frankly doesn't matter a lot if the crowd is large or small (maybe in some cases a smaller crowd is even better--less distraction).

Concerts are, not surprisingly, another thing I enjoy, and again, being on my own there is at least as fulfilling as being with others.  Particularly if the concert is of classical music, being able to get highly focused on the music, the performance, and all the things that go with it is extremely satisfying regardless of whether anyone's around me or not.  (My years spent as a part-time critic down in West Palm Beach satisfied this part of my personality very well.)

In other words, there are things which, if necessary, I'm quite happy to do alone.  On the other hand, being in a crowd isn't necessarily a problem, but I tend to deal with it differently than others.  I'm quite capable of being "alone in a crowd," but contrary to the portrayal of such in many different outlets, this isn't a problem; in fact it might be a preferred way of dealing with a crowd.  I'll process whatever's going on much more successfully and satisfyingly, frankly, in such "alone in a crowd" fashion.  Having to cope with a lot of interpersonal stimuli in addition to the dynamics of the larger crowd, on the other hand, can get rather overwhelming; everything--not just mind, but emotions, sensations, even physical condition--wants to shut down.  I need time and space to process such surroundings and to get a grasp of what's going on at my own rate, and too much immediate interaction only overloads the circuits.

These are things I've known about myself for a long time, although I probably have better language to describe them now than I have in the past.  It probably plays into the whole business of starting to blog as well, and why I can be so darn wordy as a blogger and rather quiet in person on the same subjects.  (At some point, for example, some sort of reaction to the horrible murders in Norway this weekend may yet appear here, but I'm no wise able to process and react in word spoken or written yet.)  As to why this has occurred to me this weekend, it's all about being "on."

This Wednesday should mark the one-month anniversary of our arrival in town.  The third full week of summer Greek starts tomorrow, and we've also been engaged in such mundane things as getting new driver's licenses and auto registrations, finding new supermarkets, banks, etc. We've been visiting churches for the last four Sundays as well.  All of these things require some level of human interaction (even in the digital age, not quite all of the tasks associated with relocation can be done online, y'know). This is, of course, interaction with new people. Some of you "E"s out there probably think this is just about the greatest thing in the world, but to an off-the-charts "I" it's positively exhausting.  I don't just mean mentally or emotionally draining; I do mean physically exhausting too.

None of this should be taken to mean that any of these experiences have been particularly negative.  Not at all.  Even waiting in line at the DMV was relatively painless, in comparison to some past experiences. And classes so far (aside from the natural insanity inherent in willingly trying to study two semesters of Greek in seven weeks) have gone quite well. I seem to be among good classmates/future colleagues in ministry. I've benefitted from good study-group time (not necessarily something I'd do for every class, but for a language I feel I need the feedback), and had good times outside of class hours as well such as a thoroughly fun potluck dinner last week. We weren't even out particularly late, and were in bed no later than usual; nonetheless, by the next afternoon I was in a state not radically distant from catatonia.  Being "on" and engaging in even the most joyous of interaction was just flat-out exhausting.

Again, this is stuff I can recognize and describe better now, with psych profile results still relatively fresh in hand and in mind.  The past academic career tested these tendencies to some degree--being in front of a class does require one to be "on" very strongly if one wants to be effective at all--but it also built in a good bit of solitary time as well; time for class preparation or research was expected, and one could get joyously lost in the library stacks and be free of interpersonal overstimulation, and have plenty of time to recover one's senses.

But what about this fool's errand of mine, this future calling? I can already hear some of the "E"s among you tut-tutting about how I'll be burned out in a year.  How a pastor, presuming that's where I end up, is always on call, never has a moment to him(in my case)self, how I'll never have that kind of alone time, yadda yadda yadda.  Aside from the fact that such isn't a healthy way for any minister, "I" or "E", to view that vocation, it's clearly not true; sermons don't write themselves, after all.  It simply becomes one of those disciplines I have to program into my vocational life, which would be true no matter what vocation I might engage.  There will certainly be challenges to an extreme "I" such as me, as there are in any case, but as the old saying goes, forewarned is forearmed--I know what's up and can begin to deal with it.

Besides, there are ways in which we "I"s will actually have an advantage.  We may not be supercharged gladhanders, but we're most keen observers--not a lot gets by us; we pick up on subtle things that go right past you "E"s out there.  We're dedicated listeners.  We don't mind taking the time to work through issues from multiple angles. And we're quick to pick up when others need some space--we can recognize in others something we see in ourselves. Part of the future task will be to learn how to make advantages of those extreme "I" traits that others see as deficits or flaws.

So, Friday afternoon, how did I deal with that "I" exhaustion? After mustering up the energy for one clever Facebook status, the Greek had to be laid aside.  A short nap, finishing off the recent Mickey Mantle biography, and some serious down time.  I may regret it on the midterm Tuesday, but I doubt it--or I know I'd regret not being recharged more.  Recognize the condition and remember how to deal with it.  That's the life of an off-the-charts "I" in an "E"-biased world.

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