Sometimes I feel a little repetitive talking about how I thought I was supposed to be a certain way only to realize I’m actually someone different. But there’s a reason these ideas keep coming up. Over the years I’ve built up layer upon layer of expectations—internal and external, actual and perceived—around who I’m supposed to be. Most of us do.
Realizing those expectations exist doesn’t mean I’ll instantly start living more authentically. Letting go of expectations and discovering who we really are beneath all those layers is a process. No one exercise will show us who we truly are and how to live as ourselves, but there are many tools and questions to help us along the way.
You can check out past posts for tools I’ve found helpful and if you haven’t gotten your free guide to knowing yourself better get that here .
Another tool I’ve personally found helpful is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I appreciate taking a personality test can seem like one more way to label ourselves and put expectations around who we are—and many of them are just that. In my experience, however, the MBTI can offer some valuable insights about how we prefer to perceive the world around us and how our preferences affect the ways we respond.
The MBTI combines preferences in four areas of personality (introversion/extraversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, perceiving/judging) into sixteen different types. Each preference is just that—a preference, not an absolute. And each preference is on a spectrum instead of an either/or. For example, I have a strong preference for introversion over extraversion, but a relatively small preference for intuition over sensing.
For me it was a huge relief when I finally learned my MBTI type. I used to think my introversion meant there was something wrong with me. In a similar way I didn’t understand why society’s common measurements of success didn’t motivate me. I thought not enjoying a heated debate or being particularly sensitive to criticism were further signs I wasn’t good enough. I struggled to find other people who seemed to think the same way I did.
The more I learned about my type, the more things started to make sense. For one, INFJ is the rarest personality type, so it no longer seems so strange when others don’t approach the world the same way I do. I gained insight into what truly motivates me and how I most naturally show up in relationships.
I was able to see aspects of myself I’d always considered flaws in a different light. If nothing else, exploring my personality type gave me a tool to accept who I am instead of always striving to be someone else. As I start believing it’s ok to be me, I get curious about who I really am, what matters to me, and what I have to offer.
It’s important to understand our preferences, not as an excuse to avoid what makes us uncomfortable or a justification for never changing, but so we can care for ourselves and approach challenging situations in a way most likely to work for us. For example, being an introvert isn’t an excuse to avoid social situations, but it does mean I may need to plan some quiet time to recharge my energy after a group event.
Learning about other personality types and the different ways people prefer to interact with the world around them has also improved my relationships. Knowing ways we might differ in how we perceive or decide things gives me more appreciation for their point of view. It also helps me assume the best when they do something I wouldn’t do. For example, if someone keeps trying to draw me into a debate it’s easy for me to assume they’re trying to make me uncomfortable, but it might actually be a reflection of how they prefer to interact or process their ideas.
Beyond avoiding misunderstandings, learning to collaborate with people of different types can be a huge asset. We all have both strengths and weaknesses. We gain a lot when we work with people whose strengths compliment our own. Working with people of different types can help us see things we might otherwise miss.
If the idea of taking a personality test leaves you feeling boxed in and labeled, maybe you would rather spend a little time exploring how you do prefer to interact with the world. Do you get your energy from spending time with people or from time alone? Do you process decisions verbally in the moment, or do you need time away to ponder before you know for sure what you think? Are you detail-oriented or do you look for the big picture? Do you make decisions objectively or personally? Do you prefer to know what’s coming next or live moment to moment? How can you use these things you’re learning about yourself in your everyday life?
Do you know your personality type? If not, here’s an informal MBTI assessment . After you get your results read the profile for your type. Where does the description sound like you? Where does it not? What do you learn? How do you feel—relief, criticized, something else? Are there any ways the choices you’re currently making in your life aren’t supporting your preferences? How does this knowledge impact how you interact with others?
For more reading:
Gifts Differing by Isabel Briggs Myers with Peter B. Myers
Quiet by Susan Cain