There we sat: 32 accomplished professionals from around the world. Physicians, human resource professionals, career counselors, organizational development specialists, coaches – even 3 police officers. Each day of our recent training in the Myers-Briggs personality inventory assessment ended with a quiz. As the test papers were passed out, the tension in the air rose. It seems we are never too old to be nervous about taking a test.
What is that about?
Through our home life, schooling, sports, admissions tests, and other experiences, we are constantly compared to those around us. We define “good” by the degree to which we are better than others. We are taught we must perform at a higher level than others, or bad things will happen to us and better things will happen to them. (Interestingly, data shows that we are happier when bad things happen to everyone than when good things happen to us while better things happen to others.) The concept that we are all right just the way we are is not part of our culture.
I struggled with measuring myself by my “betterness” in my first position as a physician. As a general internist in a large, multi-specialty practice, I knew that down the hall were physicians who knew more and could better manage each of my patients’ medical conditions. The cardiologist knew more about their heart failure, the pulmonologist more about their COPD, and the rheumatologist more about their lupus. I wondered how I, in good conscience, could evaluate and provide care for any of my patients. Wouldn’t they be better off seeing a variety of better-than-me doctors?
It reminded me of watching our daughter play softball as a freshman in high school. Three years younger than her teammates, she lacked the strength and experience that would make her a good hitter – but she had a strong throwing arm. In her first game, she threw a runner out at home, from her position in center field. This petite, young girl had a skill that was useful to the team. The Myers-Briggs assessment clearly shows that each personality type provides an important orientation, skillset and approach to the work we do with others. For my patients, I realized that they benefitted from the trusting relationship and broad overview I provided, which they might not have received from a compendium of specialists.
Tests are often invoked as “motivation” – our fear of falling behind or being embarrassed motivates us to study and learn. In fact, research clearly shows that “intrinsic” motivation, the desire to succeed for reasons of intellectual interest, achieving mastery, or the attainment of a personal goal, is far more effective and trustworthy than extrinsic rewards. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc) The feeling of “flow” when we strive to improve for intrinsic reasons is one of the most natural “highs.” Being better than ourself is a more effective motivator than being better than others.
We each have skills, perspectives, experience and personality traits that are important in our work, our families, and our relationships. So perhaps we can stop asking ourselves if we are “better than” others and instead ask:
What do I bring to this situation that is valuable?
Where might my particular talents and abilities be useful?
What could I do to bring more of who I am to all the areas of my life?