Living Beyond the Label

When I was a kid, I took an IQ test like every other kid at the school. But my parents chose to do something interesting: they chose never to reveal to me my IQ. Instead they always told me, “Study hard, and do the best you can.” So I grew up without the labels that come with a specific IQ.

CT_Quartz-IQ_SPOTLIGHT

Later other labels/categories were introduced to me. For example, the Myers-Briggs test based on personality types developed by Carl Jung. I’m sure you’ve seen the personality types. I found the following right here:

The 16 personality types
ESTJ   ISTJ   ENTJ    INTJ
ESTP   ISTP   ENTP   INTP
ESFJ   ISFJ   ENFJ    INFJ
ESFP   ISFP   ENFP   INFP

Have you taken this test? I won’t say which of these types supposedly encapsulates my personality. But I will say that some of my former employers required this test or other personality defining tests. I never understood why, since I can’t pinpoint any discernible way that the knowledge of my personality type helped me in the jobs I’ve had.

Now, before you balk, remember, I’m talking about myself. Perhaps knowing your personality type helped you. I’ve been employed as a proofreader, copy editor, production editor, and a book/curriculum editor. If you think one personality type would be ideal for any of these occupations, you might believe you could make an accurate guess about my personality type. But you would probably be wrong about me.

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In some communities to which I’ve belonged, certain combinations of those four letters were highly prized, depending on the personality types of those within the “in” crowd. But I have always been a bit rebellious. That’s why, having learned my results from the Myers-Briggs test, I determined to forget what I learned.

“Don’t you want to understand yourself better?” some have asked me. Do I really need four letters to tell me what I’m like?

027

When I was a kid, I failed to understand why my parents withheld information about my IQ. Now I do. They wanted me to live beyond the label of it—to work hard to be the best person I can be, whether my IQ is below or above average.

Regardless of whether I’m introverted or extroverted, some tasks will take me out of my comfort zone. But I still have to do them. If I allow the limits of a label to define me, I might shun these activities.

You know what I find interesting? The fact that so many well-known celebrities admit to being shy. If you look at this article, you’ll see that these individuals didn’t want their lives defined by this label. Instead they worked hard to live beyond it. Just like my parents wanted me to do.

Want to know which four-letter label I wouldn’t mind living by? You can find two of them on my T-shirt. A specific personality type is not required.

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What about you? How have labels helped or hindered your life?

IQ image from caltech.edu. Other photos by L. Marie.

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48 thoughts on “Living Beyond the Label

  1. This is quite thought-provoking. A friend of my 14-year-old daughter’s recently revealed to her that he’s bisexual, but he asked her to keep it private. Interesting, I thought, since we’re living in an era in which one can be much more open about his/her sexuality, and several kids in their school have already come out. But he said he didn’t want his sexuality to become his defining characteristic, as in, “oh, that’s Sam, the bisexual kid.” He wants to be seen as just Sam. Makes me wonder if this is something that will change once he’s through the hyper-sensitive teen years, or if he’ll always be this way.

    • Your daughter’s friend sounds wise. We’re so quick to limit and sometimes dismiss people based on labels. if you’re a minority person, you can’t be a writer. You’re an Asian/black/Hispanic writer. People might choose to believe your writing is only for one specific group–not all people. As for Sam, he might fear that he’ll be viewed only through one lens.

  2. I remember taking that test a few times and I always forget what I come up with. Honestly, I’ve become rather annoyed with the whole thing. Mostly because I see people on social media using it as an excuse for their actions. Other times I see people calling for those of the same category to unite or talk about something, which seems oddly restrictive. There’s not much of a sense of transcending the label or improving the weak points because that’s ‘who you are’ according to this test. As far as IQ tests go, I can’t remember every taking one. If I did then I was never told a number. I do remember getting into a gifted school program, but there still wasn’t an actual IQ number attached. Pretty sure I’d come off dumber than I really am these days because I over think and have too much clutter in my brain.

    • I’ve heard the same thing–people using the label as an excuse. “Oh well I’m a blah blah blah. I can’t help it.” Please! Give me a break! And even if I have the same letter combination, I don’t want to be in their club.

      I can believe you were in the gifted program. That explains why you can keep up with so many different writing projects. 🙂

      • Makes me want to play ‘I’m an Asshole’ by Dennis Leary and use that as my excuse for acting as such. I’m still not 100% certain how I got in there. Apparently, I’m really smart, but people can’t tell since I’m usually focused on things that don’t exist like my writing.

      • I think people can tell. But some people have the belief that everyone can write a book. Therefore, they might not realize that there are some book authors who were in the gifted program. Writing a fantasy book with a fully realized world is NOT an easy accomplishment. And writing multiple books in the same world is extremely difficult. Yet that’s what you do.

      • Funny how people think writing a book is so easy. Many of these same people have never made the attempt too. To be honest, the world builder gets easier with every book. 🙂

      • I’ve heard a number of criticisms in regard to LOTR, GoT, and Wheel of Time. They’re all easy targets because they’re very successful series, which took a long time to write. (Martin’s still writing his.) Critics mistakenly believe they could easily come up with something they believe will be better. 😦

  3. I love the idea of living beyond labels — especially the IQ. It’s so easy to let those labels stick, but if you never know them, you can move beyond them. As for the MBTI, I’m trained on that assessment and I loved interpreting the results for college students who were seeking careers that might match their preferred styles. But I tried to remember to remind them that a particular type doesn’t either limit you to particular careers or excuse you from required activities 🙂 Thanks for the post.

    • I think I remember your saying you had to do that. 🙂 Glad you reminded them to go beyond the limits.
      I don’t recall anyone on any job explaining the assessment to me. That would have helped.

  4. Nice piece. We’re all potentially stupid, despite IQ tests that say otherwise. And we’re all potentially wise, despite what the IQ tests say. I think it’s a case of ‘Intelligent is as Intelligent does.’ You can be intelligent AND act like a jerk, which to me makes you an idiot. A friend of my daughter’s was a straight A student but was about as dumb as they come – racist, small-minded, self-satisfied, vain, totally unworldly… she now has a high-powered job in finance.
    As for the Myers-briggs test, I’d never heard of it, so i just did and came out as an INFP – apparently I could be a scriptwriter! How strange!
    The trouble with that test is my initial answer to most of the questions is – not really, depends on the situation. That’s probably why I’m a scriptwriter!
    Write your own script for your life. And be careful who you let edit it. That’s my mantra.

    • I totally agree with you, John. When I took the test, my answer was the same as yours for many questions. Maybe that’s why I write fiction. 🙂
      And you’re right–intelligent is as intelligent does.

  5. I’m an INTJ but didn’t really understand the significance of this until this past decade when I learned more about introverts. It some ways it would have been helpful to have a better understanding of my personality type, particularly in professional decisions, but as you allude to, I wouldn’t want that to keep me from doing certain things. We have to learn to do what makes us uncomfortable, and hopefully, over time, those things will become less uncomfortable.

  6. The best thing about MBTI is the inherent reminder that we are NOT clones of one another.

    It’s OK for X to prefer radishes and Y to prefer cucumbers.
    Z can love the city while R loves country life.
    A can enjoy reading westerns while L prefers historical romance.

    BUT trying to pigeon hole one another based on the MBTI is a mistake since our preference in any of the areas can be moderate, distinct, or low.

    PLUS our “coping” mechanism can allow us to act the extrovert when on stage before retiring to our dressing room to recharge our introverted batteries.

    • I agree that it is a good reminder that we’re all different. And I think we change as we get older. So I agree that pigeonholing based on one test isn’t the greatest idea. I’m not a fan of standardized tests. Some people really aren’t great test takers. We are more than just answers on a page.

  7. I’m not a fan of labels nor these tests. I was labeled shy as a child and was extremely self-conscious of the label. I don’t enjoy being the center of attention. I much prefer one on one over a group setting. According to the MB test, I’m an ISFJ.

    • Jill, I had my shy moments as a kid too, though my father said I talked his ear off. I’ve taken the MB test more than once and scored differently. And I answered the questions honestly. That’s another reason why I let the results go.

  8. I, too, was labeled shy in school. I started to shake it off in high school (thank you, Daddy, for encouraging me to run for class secretary -even though you knew I’d never win 🙂 and by college, everyone wondered why I thought I was shy. If truth be known, I probably still am, though I find it more comfortable to talk in front of 300 people I don’t know that 30 I do. I suppose that’s a little like how shy people go into acting.
    I’ve actually scored differently at different points in my life, too.
    It’s been interesting reading all the comments here, L. Marie, and a thought provoking post.

    • Oddly enough, I also ran for office, but in middle school. I ran for vice president though and won. I don’t think anyone else wanted the job. 🙂 I was pretty much unknown in high school and college. But in college, I tried out for the gospel choir, which involved several performances a year. It’s amazing the things you do to go against type. 🙂

  9. I love the view you and your parents take on these types of measurements. It’s good to know what your strengths are, but once you box yourself in, your weak points will always remain your weak points…

  10. Love this post. IQ tests are such a narrow concept of intelligence, and yet it’s used to define so many things. When I had an IQ test as a child, I was put into a “gifted” program. One of the things I really didn’t like about the concept was that it separated me from other people. And then it was quite an eye-opener when I moved to a different (bigger) town that had a higher IQ cutoff for their program – suddenly I wasn’t “gifted” anymore. What a thing to tell a child! Sheesh.

    • Oh my goodness! How awful! I hope someday a program like that will be reevaluated. The separation aspect is hard. I went through something similar. I know longer had classes with my friends and had to spend the summer in school while my friends hung out. Back then I felt as if I had been penalized. Making the adjustment took a long time.

  11. I generally don’t like labels. But I see how in sorting and filtering people for roles, etc, labels, IQ, Personality, and other tests play a role. Organizations need standardized criteria to avoid chaos and achieve order. It can be a simple and efficient method.

    Yet people are complex and in reality don’t always fit into neat boxes. It is our responsibility as individuals to know that we are more or less or not even the label we’ve been classified into.

    Personally, I like to know more about myself. I spend the most time with me 🙂 I know what winds me up and how to avoid or at least manage such situations for example. I know the things I can do well and the things I can’t do well and play to my strengths. It doesn’t mean I’m not open to new things, but it saves me needless experimentation. But unlike your case when you were a child, I’m a grown woman and have come into or I am coming into my own.

    This is a good subject to discuss. Thanks for sharing.

    • Well said as usual, Timi. 🙂 I know many people who are comforted by the knowledge gleaned from these tests. My niece is an extremely good test taker. 🙂 I’m one of those weird people whose brains scramble when it comes to processing categories.

  12. I think labels are limiting us as a society. In an “it’s either A or it’s B” world, we’ve lost nuanced discussion about any topic. Labels are a lazy way to categorize something so that we don’t have to deal with it. Or so that we can embrace it without fully understanding it. Or whatever. In a world driven by too much data, that may be necessary for our brains to keep up, but I fear it’s dumbing us down as people. I’ve tried and liked so many things, even though the labels initially didn’t appeal to me.

    • That’s exactly how I feel, Andra. I’m tired of having to process yet another set of labels. I also don’t wish to be known by a category either.

      Keeping up with new technology already makes life difficult. We don’t need more hassles!

  13. Seems we have a similar upbringing (remember the aunts in the kitchen?). My folks were adamant us kids would not know our IQ scores…being the sensitive one I secretly thought it was because I didn’t do good enough…:-(
    I’ve always hated labels, yet in today’s twitter/etc days, it seems everything/everyone is reduced to data less than an old fashioned ‘soundbyte’. And…(bold generalization here) it seems ‘everyone’ likes it that way.
    Great stab at a tough subject.

    • Yes I remember. 🙂 And I thought the same thing when my parents withheld the information. After awhile, I stopped thinking about it.

      There is a bit too much sharing and labeling these days, IMHO. So many are quick to voice an opinion and slap hurtful labels on others, even if the labels aren’t warranted.

  14. I really don’t like IQ tests, nor do I like the current definition of ‘intelligence’ which is basically ‘academic intelligence’. There are so many kinds of intelligence, and neither one is superior to the other. The French school in London my siblings and I went to was really bad for this. If you weren’t academic, you kind of got left behind. It’s sort of what happened to my little sister – she’s a really smart girl and very funny (I think the ability to think quickly on your feet and ping something witty back and forth is definitely a kind of intelligence – and one I do not possess), and anyway that stupid school has got her convinced that she’s not smart, so she lost all confidence in herself as far as studying goes.

    I think all that IQ testing and focus on academia to define intelligence is a hangover from a bygone era, and we really need to move past it. It’s great that your parents never gave you your IQ results. I can only imagine the damage to a child’s confidence if they were to be told they have a below average IQ!!

    Oh and I’m an INFJ 🙂 Although when I took a version of the test back when I was 24, I came out as being an ENTJ….

    • I hope your sister has discovered her awesomeness. Has she ever done improve? My niece and nephew are very quick witted. My nephew loves improve.

      I agree that various forms of intelligence need to be embraced. There’s such a focus on assessment now. Kids are pushed and pushed, but not often in good ways. Some kids get left behind.

      • She’d be good at improv I think, but only if she did it with people she knew well and was very comfortable with. She’s not a fan of being the centre of attention so performing isn’t really her thing.

        Have you seen Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk on education? I wish schools would follow his lead more.

  15. Pingback: About a Boy: Crossing the Gender and Morality Line | El Space–The Blog of L. Marie

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