We are excited to welcome Kate Mayer Mangan for a guest post about whether personality tests are an actual indicator of career success, especially for lawyers. Kate is a San Diego-based appellate litigator and runs donocle.com, a website devoted to helping lawyers work better. Welcome, Kate!
The other day, over a gooey butternut squash panini (the kind of thing I seem to be noticing more these days), a friend asked me if I knew my personality type. “Oh, I’ve always been INTJ,” I quickly answered. That’s “introverted intuitive thinking and judging,” a pretty typical type for a lawyer. It’s what David Kiersey, who developed a temperament sorter, calls a “Rational Mastermind.” Rational masterminds are good at planning, are pragmatic and responsible, and are good problem-solvers.
My friend, a retired attorney who now teaches people how to be more mindful, nodded slowly. She took a bite of her fish taco, gazing at me for what seemed a very long time—long enough to make me question my answer—and said, “You might try taking it again. Take it at home, with your shoes off where you can be really comfortable.” She gave me a website where I could take the test and get free results.
For almost 25 years, I’ve been and acted as an INTJ.
I took my first Meyers-Briggs personality test in 7th grade. I remember sitting under the blinking fluorescent lights on my plastic orange chair. I felt jittery and unsure of myself as I filled in bubble after bubble on my scantron sheet, my Number 2 pencil dutifully scratching away.
I was a little nervous as we self-scored our scantrons. But then I was relieved as INTJ came up. Yes, judging and thinking. Those were good, strong traits. I proudly reported my results to my parents. My dad told a story of me as a very young child who planned everything. “You’d announce, ‘Now I will play.’ And then you would.” He was not at all surprised by my “rational mastermind” test results.
I proceeded, going to college and to law school. At some point, I started reading and buying books that were supposed to help you figure out which career was right for you: Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type and What Color is Your Parachute? I diligently studied the books and took the quizzes in them, without ever proceeding very far. Lawyer was always one of the top careers for me, and I was always an introverted thinker-judger.
The night of the panini and taco lunch, I followed my friend’s suggestion and took off my shoes. I made sure that my children were soundly sleeping and that my husband was happily absorbed in a movie. I took a few deep breaths and committed to being really, really honest. I promised myself I’d try to be aware when I was tempted to answer a question to fit the persona I thought I should be, and to catch myself. To make sure I answered from my soul and my honest heart. I began. When an admired law professor or a parent would pop into my head, I politely asked them to go away and let me do this myself. Thirty minutes later, I pressed, “Get my results.”
INFP: Idealist Healer. Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Prospective
Wow. No judging and thinking? No masterminding and being logical all the time? I felt a huge surge of relief. Reading the description made me feel calm, not amped up the way the INTJ description did. “Idealists are sure that friendly cooperation is the best way for people to achieve their goals.” Exactly. “Idealists are incurable romantics who prefer to focus on what might be rather than what is.” So true. No wonder I struggle when I talk about careers and people say, “Well, if you like 50% of your job, you’re doing great.” Does it really have to be that way?
The point is not that a personality test will tell you what you should do with your life. Far from it; in fact, there is a lot of criticism of these tests. The point is that all the career books and career counseling and personality tests in the world won’t matter until you can be honest with yourself. Until you can, as Brene Brown writes in The Gifts of Imperfection, stop hustling to please and perfect and impress, and instead own your story.
As long as I believed that I was supposed to be rational, and a thinker, and totally logical, my results were the same. Yet there was always a tug in me (sometimes a big yank, actually) that it wasn’t true. In reality, I already knew myself, and you do, too. You just have to stop listening to the others and stop putting on your false face, at least to yourself. Once you do that, you can begin the journey to finding the right path for you.
Kate Mayer Mangan is an appellate litigator at Hahn Loeser & Parks. She also runs donocle.com, a website devoted to helping lawyers work better. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The LA Daily Journal, and Ms. JD.
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