Recently I was asked to participate in a personality profile/evaluation as part of some training I was attending for a volunteer organization. As usual, I was busy with other things and forgot to complete the online evaluation until the last minute. The volunteer work I was doing was important to me, but it was not evidenced by the amount of time I had spent preparing. So I attempted to find a quiet spot in the house and sat down to answer the questions. It didn't take long, and as instructed, I didn't spend a lot of time on any of the questions..."just go with your gut response and be honest with yourself." It was easy enough, and I was up and running in ten directions at once in no time.
I promptly forgot all about the process until I received the emailed results the following day. I didn't have time to read through it then and planned to print it out and read it on the plane on my way to the training. Later that night curiosity got the better of me and I opened it up to have a look. It takes only one word to describe how I felt as I read through the several page response - SHOCK. How is it possible for less than 30 questions that took me less than 30 minutes to answer so accurately describe my personality? More importantly, why would I want to see that outlined on paper...the good, the bad and the ugly. But there it was, staring me in the face.
About 90% of the things in the report rang far too true. Perhaps the other 10% was wrong - as I like to believe - or perhaps that last 10% is just too much for me to take in. It took awhile for the process to sink in as it was, and so began a restless period of self-reflection.
Everywhere you look these days you can find the topic of self-reflection; on the bookshelf, audio recordings, the net. All those sources will tell you that really knowing yourself is a positive thing. I can assure you, that is not how I felt when I first read through "the report". There were things that didn't surprise me; "Lisa wants to be liked by everyone and to be recognized for her willingness to help others in time of need. She is optimistic and usually has a positive sense of humor. She places her focus on people." That was not news to me and didn't really sting.
But there was a recurring theme within the report that I didn't like as much. Under the section intended for people who might supervise or work along side me it posted a warning of sorts. "Lisa tends to trust people and may be taken advantage of because of her high level of trust"; "Lisa may leap to a favorable conclusion without considering all the facts"; "Because of her trust and willing acceptance of people, she may misjudge the abilities of others." This report took things that I thought were good qualities and painted them in a little different light. That was what stung.
In the days and weeks that followed I found myself constantly pondering that description of me. My openness and acceptance of all people, my assumption that people mean well just as I do...was it in fact a negative trait? Was it something I should try to change? Should I be more cautious, more suspect of people and their intentions? More realistic perhaps? I looked back on past relationships - personal and professional - that had ended in ways that I wished had been different and began to apply the possibility that I had given these people too much credit, had been too trusting.
Lo and behold, I found these traits of mine were visible at the root of the problem in many of those cases. I began to realize that expecting too much of people not only disappoints me, but can put a lot of pressure on the other person. Assuming they are something they are not and then being disappointed in them when they turn out not to be who I'd built them up to be in my mind is unfair.
Now the big question, what do I do with this new self-awareness? I don't really have the answer to that. I don't want to stop being trusting of people. I don't want to be suspect of them and doubt their intentions. It seems like it would add a darkness to my soul that I don't have room for. But I don't want to expect so much of others that they could only succeed at disappointing me. I suppose that's the thing about self-reflection...it's never ending and the answers are never easy.
"And yet self-knowledge is thought by some not so easy. Who knows, my dear sir, but for a time you may have taken yourself for somebody else? Stranger things have happened."
- Herman Melville