I love a personality test. Whether it’s a rigorous Myers-Briggs exam or “Which Hogwarts house would you be in?” on Buzzfeed (if you’re interested, INFJ and Ravenclaw) without fail I go through all the questions in pain-staking detail, think deeply about each multiple choice scenario, and read my results and say, “Oh that’s SO me.”
So a few years ago, when I was working on encyclopaedias (yes, it is as rock and roll as it sounds) and the team had the chance to do a DISC personality test, I leapt at the chance. Unfortunately, as I was on a temporary contract, I wasn’t allowed to do the official, 40-question test, but I would not let that deter me and found a freebie version online. If you haven’t heard of it, the letters of DISC stand for workplace-specific personality traits:
DOMINANT – These are the people who like to get things done, and done quickly. They’re often very assertive, task-orientated and like to be in charge.
INSPIRING – The I type is more people-orientated, and loves to look at the big picture and strategise rather than worrying over the small details.
SUPPORTIVE – These people are all about people. They work best when they know that what they are doing is helping the team around them.
CAUTIOUS – Also known as conscientious. These are the detail-people, the perfectionists, who love a system and a process to make sure everything is done right.
What’s interesting about the DISC test is, when it’s done in a big company like mine, you find people in the same departments often have the same results. In IT, a lot of people were Ds because that job involves a lot of problem-solving and decision-making. In Marketing, there were a lot of Is because that requires creative strategies and big picture-thinking. And in my department, which heavily relied on spreadsheets and processes to keep track of a huge number of articles, it was no surprise that almost everyone in the team was a C. Except me. Granted, I hadn’t done the official test, but I had come out as an SI – and it made so much sense.
I had always liked my job but I never especially loved it. I would follow the processes and try to be as thorough as possible, but if something wasn’t 100% correct I didn’t especially mind. I very much had a “that’ll do” attitude. My team, on the other hand, didn’t have a “that’ll do” attitude. They wanted to get it right. They’d rather wait until it was perfect than meet a deadline with something that was 80% of the way there, and try to sort it out later if there was a problem. And even though I loved my team and we got on very well, I always knew there was something not quite right about me being there. That wasn’t the job for me, it didn’t come naturally, but everyone else managed it fine. Now, I had my answer – I was an SI. They were Cs. That job suited who they were as people, whereas I was faking it because, as an S, I just wanted to give the team what they needed.
But then two years later, when I had moved to a permanent contract in the books department, I was finally allowed to do the proper, 40-question DISC test. I was so excited. Sure, the result would be the same, but it would be so thorough, so insightful, I could hardly wait to see my SI personality description in all its glory. Except, I came out as a DC. The complete opposite of what had happened two years ago. And I was not happy.
I liked being an SI. I liked thinking of myself as someone who loved to support people and think of big, creative ideas. But tasks and details and efficiency? Those weren’t me. Those didn’t sound like super cool and fun things to be good at. I urgently tried to take the test again, but my results were already final. I was stuck as a DC, and complained to my friend Beth, who calmly suggested that 1) I might not always be the least biased judge who I am as a person and 2) I had probably adapted my personality and approach to fit my new job. Beth, by the way, is a C, and an excellent one who often sorts my life out for me where logistics and details are involved.
And she was right. I had answered the DISC test with my new job in mind, which had a different team dyamic. In my new job, my manager was an ID – which meant she was great at the big picture stuff, she made quick decisions, but she was terrible at details (and she’d be the first one to tell you that herself). That meant there was no one to watch out for the little things and follow the process. The team needed a C, so I became one. I had a lot more responsibility, which required lots of decision-making – so I became a D too. It wasn’t who I was, set in stone forever, it was who I needed to be for right now.
I think there’s a danger when we do tests like that, because we forget that people change. People are fluid, resilient, and can evolve and adjust for the surroundings they are in. You’ll find that someone who hasn’t had to suffer many disappointments in life doesn’t cope very well when they suddenly find they can’t get their own way. But throw them in that scenario again and again, and eventually they’ll develop a thicker skin. And maybe if life gets very easy again, they might slip back into their old ways. We are made and remade in each moment of our lives.
In a world where identity seems to be the be-all and end-all of life, it can be hard to think of ourselves in a new light. We just want an answer to the question, “Who am I?”, and finding a new answer to that question can make us feel unsettled. But there isn’t just one answer to that question. Who you were as a kid may not be who you are in 10 years’ time. Who you are in this moment, in this situation, might not be who you are in another environment, on another day, with different factors involved. And that’s a good thing.
It means you never need to be limited by the labels people give you, because that label might apply to you at home but it doesn’t fit the version of you at work or with your friends. It means you’re not stuck with the parts of yourself you dislike, because you know that you can be better. It means you can say, “Why not me?” and try something new. Personality tests are interesting, they may be insightful, but they’re only measuring a snapshot of who you are at that given time, in that particular scenario. Every day, in every situation, you get to decide who you’re going to be in this moment. That might be scarier than having a test do it for you, but it also means you’re free to experience true multiple choice.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti