Monthly Archives: May 2012

Embrace who you are from a place of strength

In the last 24 hours, the strangest thing happened. I was sad. I took a Myers-Briggs test. And I got happy. That NEVER happens.

Myers-Briggs tests usually piss me off to no end and leave me feeling helpless. (Try it and see for yourself!)

I hate the idea that my personality can be defined. And that, based on my personality type, I’m destined to do (or not do) certain things. I have a real aversion to my future being beyond my control.

I’ve taken a test three times now. Each time I was in a very different place in life and, from what I can vaguely recall, I’ve received a slightly different four-letter label each time. The first time was in Harvard’s sad excuse for a career center (“Oh, I’m sorry, you don’t want to go into finance or consulting?”). The second time was as part of a new employee-engagement initiative at Edelman. And the third time was last night.

In the past, I’ve found Myers-Briggs to be counter-productive and, frankly, “bollox.” People don’t lend any credibility to their personality descriptions. They gloss over and/or disagree with it completely. What they do read and take as Biblical truth is the “recommended careers” and “other famous/successful people with this psychological type” sections. We don’t care who/what we are – we care what it’s gonna get us.

Particularly when delivered in a career context (not to mention a corporate office), there’s a clear hierarchy to personality types. If you want to be successful (in business), be an ENTJ (The Executive”). Why? Because, while only 3% of the population is an ENTJ, practically 100% of Fortune 500 CEOs are ENTJs – not to mention some of  history’s most powerful people: Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, FDR, Hillary Clinton and Warren Buffett (at least according to this website).

So – in classic Sara fashion – when I took the test last night and it spat out ENFJ, I immediately took it again to see how I could manipulate my responses to switch my F for a T. Sadly (and probably because I actually am an F more than a T), I came back a little less F-ish, but still F.

F.

Well – then I started to actually read the description of an ENFJ, “The Giver.” And I decided to lay down my arms and take ownership of/pride in my personality type (heck, I have Oprah, Obama and Clinton on my side, babyyy).

In fact, recognizing myself in the description lifted an enormous weight. I felt a huge sense of relief when I read that, while it’s important for ENFJs to spend time alone, it’s often difficult “because they have the tendency to be hard on themselves and turn to dark thoughts when alone.” BINGO!

And…

“An ENFJ who has not found their place in the world is likely to be extremely sensitive to criticism, and to have the tendency to worry excessively and feel guilty.”

DING! DING! DING!

This is also probably why I’ve always felt so pissed off (or guilty and excessively worried) that I couldn’t be an ENTJ – a corporate employer’s dream hire:

“ENTJs are natural born leaders. They live in a world of possibilities where they see all sorts challenges to be surmounted, and they want to be the ones responsible for surmounting them. They have a drive for leadership, which is well-served by their quickness to grasp complexities, their ability to absorb a large amount of impersonal information, and their quick and decisive judgments. They are ‘take charge’ people.

ENTJs are very career-focused, and fit into the corporate world quite naturally. They are constantly scanning their environment for potential problems which they can turn into solutions. They generally see things from a long-range perspective, and are usually successful at identifying plans to turn problems around – especially problems of a corporate nature. ENTJs are usually successful in the business world, because they are so driven to leadership. They’re tireless in their efforts on the job, and driven to visualize where an organization is headed. For these reasons, they are natural corporate leaders.”

I really, really, reeeeeallly wanted to be an ENTJ. Read those paragraphs! They reek of the kind of “success” that type-A’ers have been told they are destined for (any less would be underachieving). You can almost see the view from the corner office on the top floor! Smell the leather chair?

Alas, I’ve been F’ed. But I’m having a better time embracing my F (and E, N, J), than I have in the past. It’s less of a death sentence and more of a context or framework. In overly simplistic terms – it’s like being a certain color crayon. You can draw the same picture with a red crayon as you can with a green. It’s just going to come together a little differently.

That said, I still want to challenge this assumption that ENTJs are somehow best suited for corporate success. The corporate world is changing. I think it’s becoming more F than T. And, to go back to the “100% of Fortune 500 CEOs are ENTJ” thing, 97% of Fortune 500 CEOs are also DUDES! (And generally white, kind of tall, with gray/white-ish hair, wearing a tailored Armani suit…).

And then, to bring it all the way back to my earlier post on women/effective leadership styles, as a woman who may or may not want to be a fortune 500 CEO and may or may not be an ENTJ, it’s in your best interest to be and lead as YOU (ENFJ, ENTJ, ISFP or whatever you happen to be) than to try to be and lead as a man. Or an ENTJ.

Ranting aside, I think the lesson I’ve learned in all of this is to embrace who you are from a place of strength rather than weakness. You are who you are. Not better or worse. You just are. And the sooner you can own up to your strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, insecurities, etc. without shame or self-criticism, the sooner you can become the best — and happiest — version of yourself.

At least, that’s my “feeling” opinion. As an ENFJ 🙂

Are You Okay?

Dear world,

I’ve been receiving a few “are you okay?” emails – ha – and I just wanted to clear the air/set the record straight. Yes, I am okay! Just overly honest and open about the way my mind works.

That said, I was looking back on my recent posts and have to admit that even I was tempted to send myself an email asking if I was okay.

The thing is, learning about ourselves, figuring out why we are the way we are and why we do the things we do – learning how to be happier as us – can often deliver great sadness, paradoxically. To be happy is to put the sources of sadness to bed. But in order to do so, you have to identify the sadness, shake hands and have a conversation with it, before you can send it off into the sunset. Learning ourselves is the hardest thing we’ll ever do. And many don’t take the time to do it.

The “Spring of Sara” was, among other things, me taking the time to do it.

I’m enormously grateful to have had the opportunity to take this time off to explore my passions and find out what makes me tick. But I’m also very excited to take a break from Sara School. It has been quite a learning experience – and not in the ways that result in a promotion, raise or a bonus (aka the way we more comfortably/typically denote “progress”). But, I’d like to think, in the ways that actually matter. (As Charles Wheelan put it, “You’ll never read the following obituary: ‘Bob Smith died yesterday at the age of 74. He finished life in 186th place.'”)

And because this process of figuring out who we are is ever-evolving and tends to last a lifetime, it’s hard to know when or where to put a stake in the ground and say “I made it” or “Because of all that thinking and internal battling, I am now X, Y, Z.” It takes a bit longer to be able to look back and appreciate the seasons of your own life, or see how the dots connect. And I think it won’t be until much later that I can see all the gifts of this experience.

That said, this is a blog. And the point of a blog is to share content, content, content. So before I clock back into the world of the employed on Monday, I’m hoping to put together a list of the important and not-so-important lessons I’ve learned in this “Spring of Sara.” Tie a nice little bow around this experiment.

Thanks to all of you who have taken this journey with me – particularly the ones who have made me feel less odd by admitting they occassionally feel the same way too 🙂 You have proven to me what I have always believed. We are never, ever alone.

Breakdown… breakthrough!

I loved this phrase until I realized it had already been co-opted and copyrighted by every self-help guru and his/her unborn children. Not to mention Jerry Maguire.

When your eyeballs last graced this blessed blog, I was in breakdown mode. Tailspin. I’d given myself 2.5 months to change my life. To become a better version of me. To attack my weaknesses – my demons – and conquer them for good. And yes, to become a wildly successful writer after never having written before. Pump out a novel, a screenplay and a damn good kids book. Get published in Slate, Salon and The New York Times. Because, why not? Six weeks is enough time. No. Big. Deal.

This was all fine and dandy at the start of my “sabbatical.” Anything was possible. But then, as I reached the end and looked around at my unfinished everything – I felt like a piece of shit.

The feeling came on slowly, but gained momentum rapidly – like an innocent snowflake that produces a gargantuan avalanche by landing at just the right time in just the right place. First it was listening to sadder music. You know, The Postal Service, Vertical Horizon, Death Cab for Cutie. Let’s be honest. Nothing good ever happened to anyone a few minutes after listening to “What Sarah Said” – particularly if that “anyone” happens to be named Sara.

Then I started taking long, aimless walks while listening to aforementioned sad music. I ended up in Central Park, fighting back tears as I watched drunk middle-aged men relive their glory days on the softball field. Two things happened: 1. I felt weirdly comforted by the plaques on the “In Memoriam” benches throughout the park; the ones that had heartbreaking remarks from friends and family about loved ones who had recently passed. 2. I really, seriously considered sitting down and talking to this guy:

Then I started googling “depression symptoms” and “definition of addictive personality disorder.” According to Dr. Wikipedia, people with addictive personalities “will show impulsive behavior such as excessive caffeine consumption, Internet usage, eating of chocolates or other sugar-laden foods, television watching, or even running.” As I read that definition, in my hand was my third cup of coffee. I was staring at Wikipedia. I was craving chocolate-covered gummy bears. And I was trying to decide whether to watch an episode of New Girl or go for a run first. “Outlook does not look good,” said the Magic Eight Ball. (Yes, there’s an online version of it. And yes I asked.) Crap. At one point I looked at my “recent search” log and had “depression quiz,” “predisposed for depression,” and “what’s wrong with me?” True story.

Seriously, Sara. Get. A. Grip.

I was living this spectacular life. In love with the greatest man on the planet. Taking time off from work was a blessing – a huge luxury. An opportunity. And yet here I was, by far more miserable than I had ever been while clocking in and out of my cube. All I could think was that I was stuck between two massive failures: on one side, the failure to churn out the greatest piece of writing since Moby Dick in six weeks (shocking); and on the other, my total failure to be happy. And trying to fix one side only seemed to make the other side even worse.

To bring it all back to the greatest movie ever made (Wedding Crashers), it was my Owen Wilson “I’m reading don’t kill myself books” moment. And I  just needed Vince Vaughn to walk in and ask to sleep over on my birthday.

Thankfully, Jason is the greatest Baba Ganoush there is and he helped me start to climb out of this hole I’d dug for myself. I was also able to talk it out with a few other kind souls. And it wasn’t even about what they said in response, but about voicing the sadness. Somehow by putting words to it, the end of the world seemed a lot more manageable and a lot less likely.

From this point on my recovery climb, just above the tree-line, I can see a few things more clearly. I’ve definitely come face to face with a lot of the darker parts of my personality. I had hoped that conquering them would have a faster turnaround time, but I guess these things aren’t like repairing a car or fixing a broken bone. You don’t put it in a cast and six weeks later – tada! – it’s fixed. It’s more like a bad sprain. It gets better. And while it never returns to pristine pre-sprain form, the joint is actually stronger in other ways. But you have to do your PT exercises and probably for the rest of your life. Build up the muscles around it so when you get knocked, you’re relying on more than just a ligament to hold you up.

In this case, the “muscles around it” are the people I love, and a series of larger realizations about who I am and what  makes me tick. To bring it all back to Mr. Maguire and his mission statement: “The things we think but do not say.”

And so, without further ado, The ThingsI Think but Do Not Say. Well, until now. Very much a work in progress:

  • I have ridiculously high and largely unrealistic expectations for myself. Being less than spectacular is not a failure. Expect less, enjoy yourself more.
  • The process of becoming takes time. Probably your entire life if you’re lucky.
  • Life isn’t fair. Hard work doesn’t always mean better results. Doing everything “right” doesn’t mean it won’t end up “wrong.” Bad things happen to good people. “Unjust” things happen every day. You might purchase a brand new beautiful vehicle and get rear-ended 32 hours later through absolutely no fault of your own (yes, it happened). Shit just happens. Roll with it. As Richard Bach wrote in Illusions (read it!), “The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy.” It’s all part of your story – and can make for excellent bar conversation.
  • There’s no karma bank that invests in outcomes. But there probably is one that invests in your attitude. Pay it forward with positivity.
  •  Imperfection is liberating and far more authentic and interesting. Own up to your so-called “deficiencies” because they are what make you, you. Guarantee you’ll make better friends for it.
  • Don’t try to do something great. That’s entirely out of your control. Just try to be great at what you do. I think passion and enjoyment is a byproduct of putting in the time to master the job at hand. It’s nearly impossible to have an enduring love for something you cannot fully engage with.
  • At the end of the day, life doesn’t separate out into success and failure. Success isn’t the cost of entry into a better afterlife.
  • As much as I might fancy myself an intellectual introvert, being alone for too long makes me sad. Ain’t no way around it. Surround yourself with people who reflect the values you hold most dear. Engage with them. Be there for them. Talk to them. Get drunk with them. Do stupid and smart things with them. You’ll feel better.
  • There’s nothing important about doing something important.
  • Don’t judge. Don’t make snarky comments after the fact. Even if they’re funny. (Trust me, I know it’s a hard sacrifice to make.) You’ll live a fuller, calmer, more peaceful life. Sounds like a giant leap, but it’s true.
  • The deep, intense, dark-night-of-the-soul thinking that often accompanies “great writing” is largely unnecessary. Better books and better lives come out of happy thoughts. At least, that’s my opinion.
  • Be nice.
  • John Milton was right: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Richard Bach was also right: “Perspective – Use It or Lose It. If you turned to this page, you’re forgetting that what is going on around you is not reality. Think about that.” So was Samuel Butler: “The one serious conviction that a man should have is that nothing is to be taken too seriously.” And Robert Louis Stevenson: “The habit of being happy enables one to be freed, or largely freed, from the dominance of outward conditions.” And Samuel Johnson: “Consider, Sir, how insignificant this will appear a twelvemonth hence.” (Yikes, I’m sure plenty of women have said wise things too…)
  • Talk about the things that bother you for the sake of voicing them. But don’t expect anyone’s response to resolve them for you.
  • Cling to your ability to laugh at yourself. It can make all the difference.
  • And finally, when you’re at the very, very end of your rope. Call me maybe.

Until next time…