A confession. I am one of those people who gives credence to personality tests. In fact, I may or may not have just wasted a half hour taking mini tests at each of those sites to confirm what I already know about myself: that I am an ESFJ; that my love languages are equally words of affirmation and physical touch; and that I am an 8, alternatively labeled ‘challenger’ or ‘boss.’
I didn’t used to think much about personality types, but then one day, something like eight or nine months ago, I gave in and admitted (to myself and at least one other person) that I liked a certain member of the male population. And this certain male also admitted to himself (and at least one other person) that he liked me. And, after a conversation or two of the type that the young people (and by “young people,” I of course mean my own generation) refer to as DTRs, this male presented me with a book called The Enneagram in Love and Work: Understanding Your Intimate and Business Relationships.
After I got over my surprise at this unusual start-of-relationship offering, he asserted his desire for me to read the book and figure out my personality type, and then he pointed out the section that detailed his personality type and asked me to familiarize myself with it too. Our relationship has since involved many conversations that reference this book as well as our love languages and our MBTI profiles. We make these references not as excuses for our actions (I hope, at least) but more as clarifications so that we remember to cut each other (and ourselves) a break every once in a while. When he does something that I cannot empathize with, relate to, or even begin to understand, I can usually be brought around to sensitivity and patience when reminded that he’s wired to operate that way, and of course the reverse is true.
In fact, I still often forget about personality type until I do something that confuses even myself, and LF is usually the one who swoops in with, “Remember, one of your personality tendencies is…” He reminded me of this a few days ago, while I pontificated on my apparent penchant for self-deprivation. I had just finished listing four things for which I am currently on official hiatus. I wondered aloud why I would set up a pattern of deprivation in the first place, and then I chastised myself for not being able to stick to my self-imposed restrictions 100% of the time. He reminded me that one of the traits of an 8 is a pattern of drawing clear lines and then intentionally crossing them.
As I think about this particular characteristic in relation to my reading habits, I wonder if setting goals that I do not (and perhaps even cannot) achieve is a variation of this personality trait. In case you didn’t follow my progress on reading the classics or forgot about it, I managed to get through a whopping four classics in twelve months last year.
At some point near the end of the year, I tried to figure out how many total books I read in 2011, and the number came in somewhere around 34 or 35. That’s an average of just under three books a month. So far in 2012, I have finished 8 books, an average of just under four books a month, and that is only counting half of March, which means I am on pace to increase my total count from last year by a pretty wide margin. So I think I can conclude with confidence that my underachievement problem is not with reading in general; rather, the difference is determined by what I’m choosing to read.
I realize that sounds like an obvious conclusion. And yes, the truth is, sometimes I feel like a sellout when I recognize Harry Potter references faster than a reference to Walt Whitman. Sometimes I feel like a literary failure when I realize I can discuss the themes, motifs, and characterizations in The Hunger Games better than I can for Jane Eyre. And I’m exceedingly embarrassed when it becomes evident that I can claim either Team Edward or Team Jacob more confidently than Paris or London.
It’s true that I am 27 years old and have not read nearly the volume of so-labeled classic literature that I would have liked to be able to boast by this time in my life. But, for me, it’s akin to choosing between chocolate cake and fruit in the middle of the afternoon. Most of the time I will choose chocolate cake because that is more immediately gratifying, and it’s just so much fun. Besides that, most of the time I honestly have very little power to deny myself chocolate cake anyway. And even if I do stop myself and choose the fruit over the chocolate – discipline over fun – I’ll do so grudgingly, thereby zapping all enjoyment from my afternoon-snack experience. Suddenly, having a snack feels like a chore, not a reward or treasured escape.
But every now and then, on a rainy day or perhaps during a full moon, I will actually crave the fruit instead of the chocolate. And on these days, I will eat the fruit, and I will appreciate it, and I will suck every last drop of juice from it. And afterward, I will feel gratified, not only because the experience was pleasurable but also because I feel good and healthy about what I just consumed. But the next day, it’ll be back to the chocolate without remorse.
When it comes to books, maybe I will always have more contemporary reads in my repertoire than classics. But the cool thing is that, eventually, some of those may become classics too. Of course, I probably won’t be alive to see that happen. But that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? Life is too short not to choose chocolate.